We’ve been here before, of course. I can remember half a dozen flashpoints in the last ten years where revisions to the Terms of Service have caused uproar for content creators. Today’s is following a traditional pattern.
Why do social networks need Terms of Service in relation to images (and other created works)? Well, basically, if you want to use them to show off your stuff, you need to grant some sort of license to do that. Facebook wouldn’t have got very far if in its second week Zuck had had a bunch of claims made against him for publishing the photos that users had uploaded in week one.
The terms need to do a bit more than that, of course. Twitter serves its content through an API (an interface that among other things means that third party sites and services can display tweets that look pretty – think of the embedded tweets you’ve seen on many news sites). That needs clearing with the content creator too, so there are no comebacks.
What else? Well, like many companies, the social networks are keen to make use of whatever content they can lay their hands on to promote their services. If Twitter wanted to run an ad featuring a tweet, with some imagery appearing… you get the picture. It’s grabbing rights to do what meets their business objectives – and though less palatable than just “making the service work” you can kind of live with it.
So why do photographers and other creators go ballistic on such a regular basis?
Well – this is why:
Look at the terms currently causing a stink:
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). This license authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to provide, promote, and improve the Services and to make Content submitted to or through the Services available to other companies, organizations or individuals for the syndication, broadcast, distribution, promotion or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use. Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.
That’s pretty broad. In fact it’s incredibly broad. Other than attempting to deprive the creator of the actual copyright or moral right of creation, it could hardly be broader.
Yes, it allows Twitter to do the things above which it kinda needs to.
It also allows them to sublicense (to sell on for a licensing fee that doesn’t flow back to the original creator, er, that’s YOU) and to syndicate, distribute and generally spew the pictures anywhere, for any reason, and under agreements that you will never know the detail of.
And that’s the bad bit.
If they actually respected “the intellectual property rights of others” then their reasonable Terms of Service might look like this [I am not a lawyer, so forgive any legalese howlers, but I know clear and reasonable when I see it]:
By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content on our web platform and apps. Because we want to keep developing Twitter across different devices and technologies, we also need the right to do these things in all media or distribution methods (including ones which haven’t been invented yet). This might seem a big ask, but it will provide continuity of service to all our users as we develop, with no Content suddenly vanishing. You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to provide, promote, and improve the Services and to make Content submitted to or through the Services available to other companies, organizations or individuals for the syndication, broadcast, distribution, promotion or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use. We reassure you that these terms will only ever be designed to do this in relation to the presentation or performance of the Twitter services, and such uses won’t result in any compensation to you as the creator of the Content. We won’t ever impose claims on your copyright or moral rights as a creator, and will never sell your Content for gain to third parties.
The problem with the current situation is that even if the social networks aren’t monetising the stuff you upload – and what a noise there’d be if they did – but they COULD. They can and should do better.
Anything else is purest gold digging.