I tweet daily.
Sometimes many times in an hour.
I tweet about my day, my son, what I’m eating, my mood, the weather, what movie I am seeing… I even tweet pictures from my Instagram feed.
Just like every word I publish on my blog, I feel every 140-character message I send into the world is my property.
In fact, Twitter says so too.
So, isn’t it?
Monday a New York judge ruled against an attempted quash of the subpoena of @destructuremal’s tweets and information from Twitter from the user himself.
The request was made by a district attorney for use in the case People vs. Harris in New York.
Harris is one of the hundreds arrested during the Occupy Wall Street movement’s actions in New York and his disorderly conduct arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge along with hundreds of other people on October 1, 2011. Harris’ attempt to quash was denied mostly because the subpoena was directed at Twitter itself.
However, I was very concerned with this following statement, made by the judge in his ruling and concerning Twitter’s terms of service.
In order to register the @destructuremal account, the defendant had to have agreed to those very same terms. Every single time the defendant used Twitter’s services the defendant was granting Twitter a license for Twitter to use, display, and distribute the defendant’s tweets to anyone and for any purpose it may have. Twitter’s license to use the defendant’s Tweets means that the tweets the defendant posted were not his. The defendant’s inability to preclude Twitter’s use of his tweets demonstrates a lack or proprietary interests in his tweets.-Judge Sciarrino, Jr.
Link to pdf of judge’s ruling. (Note the use of hashtags.)
This statement seems to go directly against Twitter’s Terms of Service.
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).- Twitter TOS
Right there, Twitter is stating that it has the right to use the content, but doesn’t claim ownership in any way. Twitter actually states that responsibility for tweet contents goes to the user itself.
When cell phone records are subpoenaed, I understand that you need to go through the carrier. So I understand that to subpoena a Twitter stream, ISP, account information you have to go through Twitter, Inc. That’s not what I’m worried about.
That judge’s statement said Harris doesn’t own them because he used a service that retains the right to use the information as well and can’t stop the service from using his tweets when he posts them.
So, if you use an online service to send information, who owns the content? That has now come into question.
If someone used a Blogger account for a blog, who owns the written words, the blogger or Google?
If that same ruling was applied to Google, Google would ultimately own those words, even though even though it also states in their TOS that the user owns the content- words, pictures and any other generated content- even though they withhold the right to use it.
Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.
When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.- Google TOS
Because you could not prevent Google from using those words when you first typed them on a page- because you are using a Google service to record them- the judge’s statement would mean they are not yours.
What do you think of this statement? Should using a service ultimately overthrow your ownership of content shared online?
If you’re curious to see more about Harris’ argument against the subpoena check out his February post here.
Megan is (or maybe was) an avid Twitter user who runs two separate accounts including her personal one, @mrswndr, and the account for SoCal Lady Bloggers. She blogs at Sunshine Wonderland.