Twitter has become huge in Norway, and recently newspapers like started embedding unfiltered feeds of tweets about a topic in their articles. So if you tag a tweet #aker it’ll show up in articles about Kjell-Inge R¯kke, one of Norway’s richest industrialists and the owner of the Aker concern. @mikkelgruner a.k.a. Mikkel Gr¸ner decided to sabotage this, and wrote a tweet that translated reads “I’m shocked that called Kjell-Inge R¯kke a “syphilitic whore’s cunt” on their website. Remember the Press’s Ethical Guidelines!” #AKER”. Sure enough, his tweet showed up in the latest article on R¯kke (and I’ve borrowed the screenshot from Mikkel – I hope he doesn’t mind).

Mikkel continued by using the same strategy on various other issues, arguing that it was a protest against a capitalist media empire acting as a megaphone for the rich and powerful and then additionally profiting from the words of the masses, simply assuming that of course any of us plebs on Twitter would be eternally grateful to be re-published in the newspaper and that of course they needn’t ask permission and of course we wouldn’t mind having our words republished as eye-catching cool stuff that would help the newspaper sell more ads.

Personally I tweet in public and I’m happy for my words to be reused, re-tweeted, and generally used as people wish. Preferably not against me, I suppose, but even that I’ll take. But Mikkel does have a point. Twitter’s terms of service state that users retain copyright of their tweets:

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.

So technically, Dagbladet’s republishing tweets is a breach of copyright. Worse yet, Mikkel writes, they’re making money off it – there are ads placed right beside the tweets.

On the other hand, as @osol has pointed out, Mikkel had deliberately used a hashtag – #aker – and hashtags on Twitter have come to mean that you’re sending a tweet to a “channel”, or allowing your tweet to be syndicated along with other tweets using that hashtag. The question is whether users really know this, and whether they’ve considered that it means newspapers and political parties may republish your content without your knowledge or explicit permission – and earn money or voters from it.

Further, the Twitter terms of service go on to say:

The Twitter service makes it possible to post images and text hosted on Twitter to outside websites. This use is accepted (and even encouraged!). However, pages on other websites which display data hosted on must provide a link back to Twitter.

I think Twitter needs to offer users several licenses. I’d choose a CC attribution license, allowing people to use my tweets in any way so long as they’re attributed to me, whereas Mikkel might want either a non-commercial license so newspapers can’t make money off his tweets, or perhaps an old-fashioned copyright license, so the tweets can’t be republished at all. That way, Dagbladet and other sites can simply suck in the tweets that have a license allowing that kind of republishing. Problem solved. Other sites, like Flickr, offer this – and perhaps the reason Twitter hasn’t yet is simply that they haven’t thought of commercial newspapers and so forth using tweets in this way.

Actually, there’s an external service that lets you license your Tweets as you wish: tweetCC lets you send a tweet to them that states your chosen license, and they’ll archive it and make it easy for people to know. Only 2000 or so people have done so, and this really is a service that should be offered by Twitter itself, but at least this is a start.

Companies re-using tweets like Dagbladet have a larger problem of course. You need some kind of moderation of tweets – or there are going to be more and more trolls or “terrorists” like Mikkel. And it’s not just newspapers. The political party H¯yre is having their annual meeting
and are embedding live tweets that use the hashtag #hlm (H¯yres landsm¯te). Mikkel attacked them too – classic troll behaviour, I suppose – and complained when they tried to ask him politely, on Twitter, not to sabotage their attempts at an open discussion. Interestingly, H¯yre then felt the need to write a long apology for blocking him on their blog, painstakingly arguing that it wasn’t censorship but blocking a troll. (This post seems to have been deleted, but there’s a screenshot on Mikkel’s blog.)

I don’t think H¯yre really needs to apologise for that. But I’m quite sure Mikkel won’t be the last troll using Twitter to get embedded on other websites. It’s a wonder spammers aren’t using it already to get their viagra ads on Dagbladet and H¯yre’s websites. The utopic harmony of the early days of Twittering, where spammers and trolls hadn’t quite discovered it, is hardly going to last.

I found one discussion of a similar issue internationally, where the sports network ESPN republished tweets by Mark Cuban, a “ billionaire” who made his fortune on webcasting basketball in the late nineties and who’s heavily involved in NBA sports and owns a competing cable channel to ESPN. Obviously this is very different from Dagbladet’s “theft of the words of the powerless”, to paraphrase Mikkel Gr¸ner, but the issues of copyright are similar. There’s quite a long discussion about it in the comments on his blog post.

Are the other cases of Twitter “terrorism” internationally?

Update, May 31: Kottke posts a comment from a lawyer on this issue.

23 thoughts on “twitter terrorism, copyright and the mass media’s use of tweets

  1. Mikkel Gr¸ner

    “Troll” is such an ugly word. I prefer “prankster”.

  2. carl christian

    A few comments:

    1. You write about how Mikkel Gr¸ner doesnt like main stram media to profit from his tweets. But you still choose to use his an image from his blog, w/o asking but simply stating: “Iíve borrowed the screenshot from Mikkel – I hope he doesnít mind”??
    Isnt it exatly this kind of issues he is raising?

    2. You are worried that the trolls and spammers soon will enter the twitterscene, and specially by abusing #hashtags. You might be right, but i think there is a strong twitter-communit. A lot of us feel that Twitter is important. We easily laugh of a few funny/silly tweets, but i do believe that confronted with more massive spamming, we will be able to find effective ways to keep sabotage away from the streams and more…

  3. B¯rge Roum

    When it comes to the mass media’s use of tweets I like to raise awareness of another, in a sense almost opposite, issue: Who do we listen to, and what does that say about our feelings towards the worth of the oppinions of those who are “different” (in this case not much different, just preferring to use another tool than most ppl). There are many microbloggingsites, and Twitter is just one of them. It is certainly the largest, but that doesn’t mean that everyone worth listening to is there, nor that if you want to switch service your opinion becomes useless.

    I’ve written about this, and solutions (using another search engine than Twitters own), on my blog [no] (Google translate)

  4. Martin G.

    A commenter at Mikkels blog points out a similar case in The Independent.

  5. Omer Rosenbaum

    Interesting discussion about copyrights… I never thought about the protection of twitts.
    I think if we start worry about copyright of every bits and pieces of content we produce UGC will decrease dramatically. Only those who will have the patience to read t.o.u will produce their content.
    So as we internet users hopping that cases like what happened with the citation of AP article won’t return, so we shouldn’t do the same when it comes to our content. Especially when it comes to only 140 characters.
    And regarding that troll, the net will be a boring place without them.

  6. Jill Walker Rettberg

    That example from The Independent is excellent, thanks! And looks like the twittosphere had similar impulses as Mikkel… I really don’t want to expand copyright stuff to my tweets (I’ve declared them to be CC licensed so Dagbladet can go ahead and stream me if they want) but Mikkel’s point about mainstream media exploiting the work of the masses is interesting – I’m not quite sure I agree, but it’s a perspective I want to think about.

    And you’re quite right, Carl Christian, that I blithely ignored Mikkel’s possible copyright of the screenshot with added notes – I knew he’d read this soon after I posted it (I’d just asked him for the link to the H¯yre thing on Twitter and he responded most speedily) and if he’d objected – or if he objects now – I’ll remove the screenshot and possibly go to the effort of creating my own instead.

    And Mikkel, you’re clearly a troll. Possibly a benign one. Seen from some peoples’ point of view 🙂

  7. kamikaze

    The use of twitter feeds is a bit similar to the phenomenon of feed blogs — blogs whose content consists of other people’s blog posts, fed through an rss feed. In principle, I don’t really see how these cases are different, although blogs and twitter are, perhaps, used in rather different ways. And couldn’t you say that using the hashtags is similar to using tags in a regular blog?

    How would you feel it if Dagbladet started publishing your blog posts without asking you, rather than paying expensive journalists to write?

    There was, actually, a case of Norwegian feed blogs last fall, where a blogger created several feeed blogs where he streamed other bloggers’ texts and made money from ads. Several people reacted negatively — no wonder — and the feed blogs were removed. But is there really any difference in principle between that, and Dagbladet using twitter feeds?

    I don’t think Mikkel deserves the name troll. Is it worse to swear than to steal? Are you a troll if you swear at those who steal from you?

  8. David Faulkner

    RT @Twitter_Tips When the media steals your copyright, Twitter terrorists step in: –Share this article: (cont…

  9. Linda Lorie

    RT @Twitter_Tips: When media steals your copyright, Twitter terrorists step in: (Read entire article)

  10. Oliver Kopec

    jill/txt » twitter terrorism, copyright and the mass media's use …

  11. Archie Tek

    Concerned about the media using your tweets? [twitter terrorism, copyright and the mass media’s use of tweets]

  12. Dean Calvert

    jill/txt » twitter terrorism, copyright and the mass media's use …

  13. Kent Rose

    jill/txt » twitter terrorism, copyright and the mass media’s use …

  14. […] Jill Walker Tretteberg har edruelige kommentarer og forslag. Hva nå? […]

  15. Westerwelle

    RT @nullvariable RT @Twitter_Tips: When the media steals your copyright, Twitter terrorists step in:

  16. LandoFree

    Twitter terrorism, copyright and the mass media’s use of tweets:

  17. petter

    Guy Kawasaki calls this development a beautiful thing…

  18. petter

    but also very, very tricky…like a nuclear weapon

  19. Oyvind Solstad

    I’m not sure you’re right about the copyright part:

    “We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Twitter service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours.”, says Twitter. In my head, this sounds like they say that they don’t have the copyright, not that the user have it. It says it’s yours, but twe word copyright is not mentioned.

    In Twitter TOS, point 5 under General Conditions says:

    “The Twitter service makes it possible to post images and text hosted on Twitter to outside websites. This use is accepted (and even encouraged!). However, pages on other websites which display data hosted on must provide a link back to Twitter.”

    Exactly what Dagbladet did.

  20. Jill Walker Rettberg

    But ÿyvind, unless I explicitly say that I relinquish copyright (for instance by giving it a CC license) then anything I write is copyrighted to me – that’s automatic. It’s true that their other point says that they can republish it though – I think this would be seen as a limit to copyright. I didn’t notice that at first, but added it to the blog post yesterday. Presumably Mikkel didn’t see it either?

  21. winston smith

    twitter terrorism, copyright and the mass media’s use of tweets

  22. Vijay Sankaran

    @surekhapillai @manuscrypts @beastoftraal seeing a long thread on on reuse of tweets, chk this story

  23. […] Jill Walker Tretteberg har edruelige kommentarer og forslag. […]

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