Curating Your Content: Twitter's New Terms of Service

In a blog post earlier today, @biz announced Twitter's new Terms of Service. The revised Terms, he wrote, "more appropriately reflect the nature of Twitter and convey key issues such as ownership." Among other things, this means "your tweets belong to you, not to Twitter."

But what does that ownership look like, in practice?

Based on my reading of the new Terms of Service this evening, I'd suggest "ownership" of tweets may instead be something more akin to rights of attribution and identity, with perhaps some meaningful co-ownership that would permit one to own and control certain derivations and compilations of one's tweets that might take place outside of Twitter.

The Basic License You Grant to Twitter (to Let Twitter be Twitter)

We Twitterers know the tweets we post are published on the Twitter site, re-published on the iPhones of our followers via the third party apps they've chosen, displayed on giant screens at conferences, re-tweeted by others, compiled in search results, and used, modified, tracked, analyzed and re-purposed in ways that proliferate without end. All this actually seems to be the point, the very energy that is Twitter.

The new Twitter Terms of Service now account for the broad, open-ended dissemination of user generated content that actually occurs. The new Terms give Twitter permission to disseminate your tweets, in the following, industry-standard way:

"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)."

Nothing remarkable so far (but I'll comment below on how the new Terms of Service go farther still). What was remarkable was how the previous Terms of Service did not begin to reflect the de facto bargain struck between Twitter and its users with respect to users' tweets. Those previous Terms stated in part:

"We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Twitter service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours. You can remove your profile at any time by deleting your account. This will also remove any text and images you have stored in the system."

This stated an ideal that has proved to be impractical (and was there ever really any point in time where it was plausible to delete your account and suck your content back from the four winds where Twitter and your followers scattered it?).

The Additional Rights You Grant to Twitter (to Let Twitter Figure Out How to Monetize Twitter?)

As noted above, the basic license grant in Twitter's new Terms of Service reflects what is standard in the industry for publishers of user generated content. But the new Terms don't stop there. Here are three other pertinent paragraphs from the new Terms, which suggest that Twitter may want to allow for the possibility of commercially syndicating user generated content without sharing the associated revenue or otherwise paying the user:

"You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.

"Such 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.

"We may modify or adapt your Content in order to transmit, display or distribute it over computer networks and in various media and/or make changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to any requirements or limitations of any networks, devices, services or media."

I don't see an express statement that Twitter may aggregate information inherent in user generated content, but, arguably, the last paragraph quoted above could be construed to permit that.

The Moral Rights of the Twitterer

As I stated above, ownership of tweets under the new Twitter Terms of Service may in fact be something more akin to rights of attribution and identity.

I surmise this based in part on the "Draft: Twitter Rules for API Use" currently posted. These state that "developers and companies building software that interacts with Twitter through our API" must observe the following four rules (abridged from the post linked to just above):

  • Identify the user that authored or provided the Tweet[.]
  • Maintain the integrity of Tweets and not edit or revise them....
  • Get each user's consent before sending Tweets or other messages on their behalf....
  • Get permission from the user that created the Tweet if you want to make their Tweet into a commercial good or product, like using a Tweet on a t-shirt or a poster or making a book based on someone’s Tweets.

These Rules for API Use seem to build upon the "Reposting others' content without attribution" rule that states it was posted late last year. Basic message: it is uncool to plagiarize.

Your Right to Create (Non-Tweeted) Derivative Works Based on Your Tweets

I do forsee that @biz's statement in his post that "your tweets belong to you, not to Twitter" has meaning with regard to what, in other media, we used to call "artistic" works.

For example, I think Twitter's new Terms of Service allow that a user could take the content she posts to Twitter and compile and modify that content and publish it as an epistolary novel. I don't believe the publication of that epistolary novel would negate Twitter's license to continue to syndicate the original tweets upon which the novel was based. But, in this hypothetical, the user would meaningfully "co-own" her own tweets, insofar as her right to create derivatives of those tweets would not be restricted by Twitter's rights in that same content. And this author of my hypothetical epistolary novel would have actual ownership of the derivative work; that is, she could control the dissemination of the epistolary novel itself, and Twitter would have no license or other rights in that new work (and probably could not re-assemble the underlying tweets to imitate that derivative work).

For a future post: what Disqus may mean in its Terms of Service where it states that "you can label your compilations with one of several possible licenses."

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