Photos on Twitter are a reality and will soon be more closely tied to the service. Right now, many photographers use services like TwitPics to do that. The photo above from an iPhone 4 is representative of many of these photos. And for most of us, that’s not a problem. But what about the pros?
There’s something every professional or aspiring professional photographer should know – unless Twitter changes its current (TOS) every photo you share on Twitter can be sub-licensed by Twitter, or worse. From the Twitter TOS…
“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).”
“You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.”
Ask a real lawyer (not some guy named Larry who plays one on your local camera club forum) what this means. I did. My lawyer says it means that Twitter can do pretty much anything it wants with my photos (other than claim actual Copyright to them) and there’s nothing I can do about that. Is that an issue for you personally? Maybe not. It’s unlikely it will impact you if you aren’t trying to sell your photos. But if you are, read on.
As a professional photographer, I can’t sell “exclusive” rights to any image I decide to publish on Twitter. The reason is that once it is published on Twitter, there is no exclusivity left. That could be expensive. As professionals, we need to decide whether the exposure we get via Twitter is worth that trade off. For some of us the answer is yes – for others the answer is no. The purpose of this post is to get you to understand that you will have to make some hard choices. I am hoping they are informed choices, no matter what you decide.
By the way, many of the third party services like TwitPic have equally concerning terms of service. Don’t think that by using these services you’re avoiding the potential issues I’m describing over at Twitter.
In closing, let me say that I don’t think Twitter is evil. Just the opposite. I think they are doing what their lawyers told them they have to do to stay safe. I have no problem with that. They don’t assume any Copyright over your images. THAT would be evil. I appreciate the fact that they didn’t take that step. Twitter just asks you to license your content in a way that could (if you are a pro or want to go pro) be financially harmful to you later on. That’s important to know and is in no way a “values” judgment against Twitter.
When all is said and done, the power of Twitter and other social networking sites to share images is too great to ignore. I may never share an image directly on Twitter. I have used TwitPic to send iPhone pictures (a few times) and I do post a few images on Flickr. I’ve stopped using Facebook at all. All of these social networks require you to diligently read through the TOS. Yes it will hurt your brain, but no – it won’t make you go blind. In the end, there is no free lunch. Decide if the service they provide is worth the potential risk.
I hope you find this information helpful when making your decision.