When one wants to share a photo with the twittersphere, many turn to Twitpic, a web service that allows you to upload and store images and video to share on Twitter. Recently, Twitpic changed its Terms Of Service to allow them a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.
What does this mean? It means Twitpic can do anything they like with your content without your permission, and can grant anyone else the same rights while you retain copyright to your content.
While it seems benign on the face of it, when you look at what copyright actually grants you, you can see what Twitpic is doing. According to the laws of the U.S., copyright protections allow the copyright holder to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform the work and display the work publicly, basically all of the rights that Twitpic is claiming. It’s not that they are stealing your copyrights, they are merely assuming them without any obligation to compensate or share with you any income that they make with your content. I don’t think it’s any accident that Twitpic used the language it did in its TOS. They are making an end run on your copyrights by saying that you own them, you can do with them what you will, but once you upload your content, so can they.
So after being called out on this shameless land grab, Twitpic founder Noah Everett offered this weak defense on the company blog, stating that the reason for the change in terms is to protect you from others who would use your content without permission. He doesn’t mean your permission, mind you. Just permission in the most general of terms, I suppose. He also states that
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.
First he downplays the rights they are assuming by making it seem that distribution is the only right being shared, not all of them, and then he offers the classic defense favored by most children under 13: “They do it, too!” Finally, he reminds us in a very passive-agressive way that once you delete a photo from your Twitpic account, they don’t actually delete it. They keep it un-viewable. That is, at least until they change their Terms Of Service again.