Twitter has become a cultural phenomenon, 140 characters at a time. More than 105.8 million Twitter users creatinge 55 million “tweets” per day. Billions of tweets, since Twitter’s birth in 2006.
On April 14, 2010 two tweets announced that the Twitter phenomenon would become both indelible and searchable.
The U.S. Library of Congress (@librarycongress) tweeted that it “will acquire the ENTIRE Twitter archive — ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006!” Google (@google) tweeted that you can “now use Google to search across the public archive of tweets and “replay” moments in time.” A small percentage of protected tweets, that are not publicprivate, will not be archived or searchable.
Twitter donated access to its archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress for preservation and research. After a six-month delay, the tweets can be used for the L library’s internal use, non-commercial research, public display by the Llibrary itself, and preservation.
Google has also created a way to revisit public tweets related to historic events. Google Replay allows you to search for keywords, and see what was tweeted at specific moments in time. Right now it is in Google’s Experimental Labs, and only goes back a few months, but eventually Google Replay plans to cover all public Tweets.
Aside from whatever historic or cultural value of the entire Twitter archive may have, it’s interesting to consider whether these initiatives meet Twitter users’ expectations.
In terms of rights, Twitter users retain rights in their tweets, and grant Twitter a “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with a 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).” The rights could be strung together to cover “archiving,” and Twitter could be sublicensing these rights. For example, a right to use, reproduce, process, transmit, display and distribute could arguably be sublicensed as the basis to permit archiving.
Notably, though, an “archiving” right isn’t specifically enumerated. Even more notably, the license is neither irrevocable, nor perpetual. So what if a Twitter user tried to revoke the license (for example, wanting to maintain the market for a compilation of their most profound tweets). This leads to a whole other set of questions.
- Do Twitter users have copyrights in their 140-character Tweetstweets?
- Are they original works, protected by copyright?
- Would they be considered spontaneous utterances, subject matter that copyright has been reluctant to protect?
- Are all of the tweets of one user, a compilation? If so, who owns it?
- Would Twitter or the Twitter user have created the selection and arrangement of the compilation?
- Does a grant of rights amount to an admission?
Twitter’s initial Terms of Service referred to “copyright,”, the new terms just refer to “rights,”, although the grant is typical for copyright. All in all, would Twitter be required to comply and take down tweets if the license is revoked? If so, is there a domino effect on the Library of Congress and Google? If not, is Twitter sublicensing rights it itself lacks? Though the content of many tweets may not be complex, the potential copyright issues arising from these initiatives could be.
For those of you who fear your tweets being searchable and archived for all to see, if you “protect your tweets,”, only those you approve will receive your them, and they will not appear on the public timeline. Tweets posted previously may still be publicly visible “in some places” (whether these “places” will include the Library of Congress or Google remains to be seen).
This article was originally published on the Weblog Slaw.ca on April 27, 2010.