Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of American jurists has been reducing our vivid national tongue into an indecipherable mind-numbing wall of impenetrable boilerplate. Which is a form of job-protection I guess but otherwise adds precious little in the way of common clarity and understanding.
I’ve been thinking about that ever since the improbably-named Twitter co-founder Biz Stone sent out a change of policy email to all account holders last week. Given that it was couched in dense legalese, neither me nor you nor the overwhelming majority of account holders bothered to hack their way through that thicket of legal mumbo-jumbo detailing something as seemingly innocuous as a policy change. So we don’t really know what we agreed to.
But happily, out amidst the vast resources of curious active minds brought together on the web, a few smart people have. I am particularly grateful for this wonderfully-clarifying analysis and editorial from Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age. It’s well worth a read.
Dumenco points out how amidst all the details and ‘whereby’s’, Stone buries the small but not insignificant fact that Twitter reserves the right to all of the content you generate on their service. That’s right: ALL the content.
Those one-liners you send out everyday? They’re yours, but Twitter can put them into a joke book and not owe you a penny. That news you saw happening and described from your unique POV? Twitter can aggregate it and sell it to any of the major news wires. That novel you’ve been tweeting? Those lyrics you’ve been half-crowdsourcing? That witty bon mot about a current event? Twitter owns them as much as you do, and can profit on them or resell them or license them to whomever they darn well please.
To most of us, the use of this service and the simple fact that we’re not likely to toss off too many intellectual pearls within 140 characters makes this a fair trade. And given the sheer dunning weight of meaningless prattle on the service, that is not necessarily a reckless position. It’s a stretch to consider “Man I need coffee” as Intellectual Property, let alone IP worth protecting.
Still, Twitter’s value lies in aggregation. In aggregation of opinion, in aggregation of highly-defined target markets and perhaps soon, in aggregation of bite-sized content around themes or lifestyles or specific events. Would anyone ever want to order a copy of The Twitter Guide To Exceptional Birthday Wishes from Amazon?
If it would come out and you did buy it, you might even find your ideas in it. Whether you’d be credited, well, there are no guarantees about that…