twitter terrorism, copyright and the mass media’s use of tweets
Twitter has become huge in Norway, and recently newspapers like Dagbladet.no 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 dagbladet.no 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 Twitter.com 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 “dot.com 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.