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11Sep/09

Twitter sends mixed messages

twitter-icon-by-diwa-fernandez

Source: PoeticPixel.info

Twitter's co-founder says your tweets belong to you. Now read the fine print.

For as long as there's been a World Wide Web, there has been debate surrounding the question, "Who owns what users post online?"

Adding fuel to the fire, popular sites like Facebook have written (and withdrawn,) controversial statements into their Terms of Service (ToS) that seemed to suggest that they were asserting ownership over users' content, including photographs, and it's users' "likeness and image". After a massive user outcry, and even some backlash, Facebook was forced to rewrite its TOS, and even allowed users to vote between two versions.

Now, in an apparent attempt to get in front of this kind of momentum, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone announced in a blog post that new changes to the company's ToS would assure that -- though Twitter is allowed to "use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute" its user's Tweets -- "they are your tweets and they belong to you".

While basking in the warm and fuzzy feelings, I decided to give it a read. Thanks to some very helpful tips placed strategically throughout the document, it wasn't hard to find the right section. The specific paragraph to which Mr. Stone refers can be found below the heading, "Your Rights", and just above the sentence:

This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. But what’s yours is yours – you own your content.The paragraph in Twitter's current ToS reads:

"You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)."

While "ownership" typically presumes a form of exclusive right or control, nowhere in the paragraph above does it even imply that "what's yours is yours", or that "you own your content". Instead, this paragraph grants, not only license to Twitter, but the right to sublicense.

The statements above are followed by a single paragraph, apparently discussing the rebroadcasting of Tweets via Twitter's Application Programming Interface (API), and then the following paragraph:

"...additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.

Which, both explicitly and implicitly, could entitle Twitter to an,

"...irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use the Share Service in order to link to, use, copy, publish, stream, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part), summarize, and distribute the content...". (Language removed from Facebook ToS.)

Ironically, when defending this language and in response to the uproar, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted the following statement on his blog:

"Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with."

Just a day after Zukerberg's blog post, PCWorld summarized their reaction to the statement in the following sentence:

"Something doesn't quite add up."

Yet, this morning PCWorld posted the following headline on their web site:

"Twitter: Your 'Tweets' Belong to You"

Followed by the statement,

"Twitter has modified the terms of service that govern the proper user of the microblogging and social-networking site to state unequivocally that messages posted belong to their authors and not to the company."

I wonder if PCWorld's author has ever actually read Twitter's ToS. I am well aware that, in order to provide the services that social networks provide, they need to have the right to distribute their users' content. (Though, perhaps not in perpetuity.) The issue that I have is not with Twitter, or even Facebook. It's with the tech media.

The endless posting and re-posting of particular events on social networks by the "citizen media" has, frankly, given many stories an undeserved and false sense of elevated, or "popularized" significance. But, I would hope that -- so long as they're employed -- those who do work for professional media services would make an effort to, at least, follow their own links before mindlessly re-posting corporate PR.

Of course, if you are a "citizen journalist" (or even if you aren't), please feel free to mindlessly re-post the heck out of this article.

Twitter: Your 'Tweets' Belong to You

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About Jeff M. Fischbach

http://www.twitter.com/FischTech Jeff Michael Fischbach is founder and President of SecondWave Information Systems (SecondWave.com), a consulting firm specializing in Forensic Technology. Since 1994, he has served as a board member and technology adviser to numerous professional organizations and corporations. Mr. Fischbach has been engaged as a litigation consultant and Forensic Examiner, offering expert advice and oversight on matters involving intellectual property, computers, information systems, satellite, tracking and wireless communications technologies. He has advised law enforcement, foreign government representatives, judges, lawyers and the press.
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