TwitPic: We’ll profit from your photos to “protect” you

In one of the most disingenuous pieces of public-relations fluff we’re ever likely to see, the Twitter picture-posting service TwitPic has defended its plans to sell users’ photos.

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Writing on TwitPic’s official blog, founder Noah Everett, who describes himself as “the nice guy that finished first“, apologised for changes to the service’s terms & conditions that had been interpreted as claiming copyright of every uploaded image. He writes:

To clarify our ToS regarding ownership, you the user retain all copyrights to your photos and videos, it’s your content. Our terms state by uploading content to Twitpic you allow us to distribute that content on twitpic.com and our affiliated partners. This is standard among most user-generated content sites (including Twitter). If you delete a photo or video from Twitpic, that content is no longer viewable.

As we’ve grown, Twitpic has been a tool for the spread of breaking news and events. Since then we’ve seen this content being taken without permission and misused. We’ve partnered with organizations to help us combat this and to distribute newsworthy content in the appropriate manner. This has been done to protect your content from organizations who have in the past taken content without permission. As recently as last month, a Twitpic user uploaded newsworthy images of an incident on a plane, and many commercial entities took the image from Twitpic and used it without the user’s permission.

Noah may indeed be a nice guy, and I’d hate to suggest otherwise, but this statement is horribly misleading, and in such a way that the deceit appears to be deliberate.

For a start, the bit about deleted photos being “no longer viewable” is plain weird. It would have made sense if he’d said “no longer available” or “no longer hosted on our site“, but to specifically say that they’re no longer viewable suggests that they’ll still be archived somewhere. In other words, TwitPic is building up a library of valuable images which can be sold and re-sold, even after the user has chosen to delete them and believes they’ve gone forever.

The rest of the statement paints TwitPic as some kind of copyright-defending white knight, concerned about uploaded photos being “taken without permission and misused“. To combat this, TwitPic has “partnered with organizations to help us combat this and to distribute newsworthy content in the appropriate manner“. Translation: Noah knows that newspapers and picture agencies around the world are using pictures from TwitPic without paying for them, so now he wants a slice of the action. But of course he doesn’t just want a slice, he wants the whole cake, because the people who took the photos in the first place won’t be seeing a cent.

Finally, Noah has the cheek to complain about the theft of a recent newsworthy image, saying that “many commercial entities took the image from Twitpic and used it without the user’s permission“. As if the user’s permission matters a jot to TwitPic. From now on, those same commercial entities will still be able to take the image and use it without the owner’s permission, just so long as they throw a few coins in to the TwitPic coffers.

The entirety of this statement from TwitPic is intended to stave off the growing hate campaign from users who don’t like the idea of their copyright being gobbled up. Noah points out that people still own their copyright, which is true, but the whole point of copyright is that you can control who does what with your pictures, and how much they have to pay for the privilege. If you grant distribution rights to TwitPic then your copyright is worthless. If you want £500 for your image, but a newspaper can license it from TwitPic for £400, then you won’t be a part of that deal.

Bottom line, Noah claims that TwitPic’s desire is to “protect your content“. It isn’t. TwitPic wants to make money from your content, for themselves, and there’s none for you.

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