Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who Owns Copyright On Tweets?

I’ve been wading through trying to make sense of this question.
My main query is around attribution and republishing.
Can you take my tweets and publish them in a book or article without my attribution?
Can you take my images and put them on your website or materials without attribution?
Most bloggers head back to the Twitter terms and conditions and pull out this phrase:
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.
From this, the writer’s claim that therefore, you as the author own your content.
It doesn’t actually say that. It says that Twitter doesn’t own it. What needs to be proven if whether or not the content is copywritable in the first place.
To my limited knowledge, this hasn’t been tested in law yet (anywhere in the world) so it’s all a bit guess-workery (yes that is a real word).
So the main question becomes:
Is there such as thing as a copywritable tweet?
The legals seems to think that conceptually, there is such a thing as a copywritable tweet. Again, all yet to be proven.
Copyright attorney Brock Shinen has written an excellent post that goes further:
Twitter can’t tell you whether or not you create or own a copyright – it doesn’t have the legal ability to do so. So if you own any copyrights, it’s not because of Twitter not owning them, it’s because the law provides for ownership of them which initially vests with you, the author.
Hmm? So where to from here?
The Twitter terms of service also state:
Twitter also […] encourages users to contribute their creations to the public domain or consider progressive licensing terms
So I did today. I think? With http://www.tweetcc.com/
You can send a message to @tweetcc via Twitter including the words  "I license tweets under CC Attribution Non-Commercial http://icnhz.com/cc-by-nc " ( or whatever progressive licensing terms you choose).
I've gone for attribution, non-commercial. So basically people can share and remix freely, attribute and if it's commercial I want to know about it.
Done. Whether it has any legal legs I have no idea. But it’s interesting to start thinking about.
Expect to see a lot more discussion on this on this one and maybe a few court cases as the attention economy scrambles for ideas.
Further references:
Original Mark Cuban post  "Are tweets copyright?" post
Good slideshare preso from SxSWi 2010 "Can you copyright a tweet?"
Twitter Terms of Service http://twitter.com/tos

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