You Own Your Tweets … But So Does Twitter?

By  |  Friday, September 11, 2009 at 6:57 pm

TwitterReading about changes to a site’s terms of service is a lot like hearing someone say, “We have to talk.” It’s never a good sign.

So, despite the calm way in which Twitter’s Biz Stone described the site’s updated terms of service, I’m raising  skeptical eyebrow. We’ve heard a lot today about the new terms’ advertising possibilities, but I’m more alarmed by the declarations of what Twitter can do with your content.

Stone notes that “your tweets belong to you, and not to Twitter.” At the same time, Twitter is allowed 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).”

After all that, what ownership do I have that Twitter doesn’t?

Let’s make an analogy. Say I write a sentence on a piece of paper. They’re my words, on my paper, plain and simple. But let’s say the paper company had declared that it can take those words and use them as it pleases, because they were written on the company’s paper. Can I still say that I’m the owner of those words?

The justification for Twitter’s reproduction rights is, simply, “that’s what we do.” Not good enough.

Twitter’s terms look a lot like the ones that got Facebook into hot water earlier this year. They’re not word-for-word the same, but you see a lot of similar language: use, copy, scan, reformat, modify, edit.

Not surprisingly, Twitter moved to pre-empt the backlash that Facebook faced by saying that “your tweets belong to you.” (Facebook said it in reverse: “We are not claiming and have never claimed ownership of material that users upload.”)

We’re talking semantics here. The bigger problem is the blanket claims these social networking sites are making on users’ content. I appreciate that Twitter’s terms of service are brief and readable, but I’d rather the site spell out exactly how and where it intends to use people’s tweets, so we’re all on the same page.


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. DaveZatz Says:

    All your tweets are belong to us! (I’m not sweating it, they can have my tweets. If they were say 220 characters each, I might feel different.)

  2. Todd Says:

    Mr. Newman,

    I just copied and pasted the text of this blog post, then saved it as a pdf to my hard drive. Since you are now storing “your words” on *my* hardware, I ask that you make monthly payments of $1.00 to me via Pay Pal.

    Thank you.


  3. Marc Says:

    Anyone producing content worth money probably is not doing it on Twitter now, are they? Something about that character limit I think…

  4. Backlin Says:

    How else are you legally allowed to put cool tweets on T-shirts.

  5. Finn Jack Says:

    Your tweets belong to you, and not to Twitter.
    At the same time, Twitter says it is allowed to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute tweet content in any and all media.
    Quite clearly the statements are in contrast. Hope now Twitter is now going to use the tweets for some special purpose rather than using it basically for healthy social issue discussions