Jul 15 2009

Twitter vs Copyright

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Does a "twitter novel" have a copyright? If you publish a "twitter novel" is that the same as throwing it away? Can someone else steal your work and claim it as their own or make money off of your ideas? This is what prompted this exchange:

Aloha Arleen The problem with tweeting a novel - It becomes public content which you no longer control or copyright.

MrDave2176In reading Twitter's Terms I don't see that. While the individual lines of your twitter novel may be hard to copyright indiv...

MrDave2176..idually the work as a whole remains yours. And it can be published, collected, or whatever. Controlling the distribution...

MrDave2176..of said work may prove difficult, but if the distributed version is altered or presented as original work you would have...

MrDave2176...a strong case. Sorry for the really long continued tweet.

AlohaArleen: the problem is that it IS a "case' in the 1st place! Consider content here free game. Unless quoted and/or copyrighted

MrDave2176 But the act of "publishing it" to the API with your name (your username) and a time stamp makes it copyrighted automatically.

MrDave2176 Your becoming a member of Twitter is an unlimited license to the API to re-publish your work for free.

MrDave2176 If someone published your work without using the API to retrieve it then you can reserve your rights if you so choose.

AlohaArleen so complicated and so very difficult to enforce...

MrDave2176 Very true. But the timestamp is the proof. It firmly places your work in a medium at a time. It estab. means and opportunity.

Matt Stewart is tweeting his entire novel "The French Revolution" on twitter. This novel has already been self-published. It is complete. Matt states that he's unconcerned about people stealing the novel. He is, as he puts it, "retaining all the copyrights. If you want to copy and paste 3700 tweets into a tangible book and sell it, we can wrastle [sic] over that later."

Author W.J. Howard's twitter novel The Courier isn't her first novel, but it is the only one she is twittering.

Writers have very specific rights concerning publication, copyright and ownership. The best summary of these I've seen is at Fiction Factor

"Rights = Usage, not payment. All rights cannot revert back to the writer. Once first rights have been used they cannot be reclaimed. One-time rights are self-limiting, make certain the market you're submitting to has a set time limit for usage."

In short legalese, publishing to Twitter means you are granting first e-rights to Twitter with an unlimited time limit to their API. While you can delete your tweets, they are still accessible to their search API as long as your are enrolled. The only sure way to remove them is to nuke the site from orbit delete the account. You do this for free. Twitter's terms of service mean that they do not hold any claim over your work (you do that) and they "encourage users to contribute their creations to the public domain or consider progressive licensing terms." By "progressive licencing" I assume they mean one of the many open-source licences like Creative Commons.

The way I see it, the best way to publish via twitter is to create an account for your novel. Tweet your novel tweets to it exclusively. Place a license statement in your description for the account along with a link back to the author account you use. Let people follow you as they will and if you want to withdraw the novel from Twitter, just delete that account.