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The Copyrightability of Twitter Posts 183

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the no-taking-it-back-once-you-put-it-on-the-intartubez dept.
TechDirt has an interesting look at some of the questions arising about the copyrightability of Twitter messages. I haven't seen any actual copyright lawyers weigh in yet, but it certainly will be interesting to watch the feathers fly until someone nails down the answer. "[...] it seems like there would be two issues here. The first is whether or not the content is covered by copyright — and, for most messages the answer would probably be yes (there would need to be some sort of creative element to the messages to make that happen, so a simple 'hi' or 'thanks' or whatever might not cut it). But, the more important question then would be whether or not ESPN could quote the Twitter message. And, there, the answer is almost certainly, yes, they could, just as they could quote something you wrote in a blog post."
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The Copyrightability of Twitter Posts

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  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:13PM (#27392821) Homepage Journal

    140 Characters? You can copyright 140 characters? Maybe. Can you copy this post?

    Copyright © 2009 Morgan Greywolf. All rights reserved.

    • There are some things that can't be copyrighted.
      For everything else, there's Lawyers.

      (Accepted wherever greed is good)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Znork (31774)

      I already have copyright on all possible combinations of 140 characters. You will soon be able to buy an anthology of Znork's collected works on Amazon. It'll be a few trucks and in really fine print, but for the true connaisseur it's definitely worth it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by gilleain (1310105)

        Well, given an alphabet of just 'a-z' + ' ', that would be 26 ^ 140 or:

        1, 248, 155, 560, 712, 888, 693, 721, 116, 035, 178, 646, 463, 649, 590, 092, 724, 076, 699, 557, 919, 198, 775, 318, 840, 655, 335, 967, 337, 203, 969, 601, 545, 498, 350, 937, 608, 330, 255, 529, 112, 180, 176, 094, 892, 997, 792, 623, 787, 890, 917, 357, 870, 916, 489, 701, 094, 150, 005, 153, 729, 071, 148, 146, 282, 725, 376

        which is quite a few possibilities.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by TRRosen (720617)

          of course you need to eliminate all those that don't form words in some language. Those that make no sense. and only keep those that clearly no human has ever spoken before in the last 3000 years and billions of people talking for hours every day.

          That should get it down to roughly 167.

          "Hey I'm going to light my penis on fire with a blowtorch" I betcha nobody ever said that... opps 166.

          • by Znork (31774)

            Well, even removing the nonsensical and otherwise disqualified versions it'd be quite a few truckloads. Not outside of realm of possibility, altho I suspect the environmental impact would make publication an issue.

            On the issue of your novel work of art, a quick search on google reveals that there are at least people who have stated their intention to light their reproductive organs on fire, using sentences very close to yours. Altho they lack specificity as to what method of ignition they intend to use, I

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by TRRosen (720617)

              Actually I sorta stole it from a George Carlin bit. His estate's lawyers are at the door now!!!

            • by dgatwood (11270)

              Actually, the number would be far smaller. First, the original post mistakenly assumed that capitalization differences are sufficient semantic change to be worthy of copyright. They aren't, generally speaking. Even diacritics usually don't result in different meanings most of the time (though they are still considered spelling errors). Further, commas, periods, and spaces are even less relevant; they actually detract from the amount of content that you can squeeze into 140 characters. As such, they don

          • by mrmeval (662166)

            I've copyrighted the word plagolinthariastic you insensitive clod!

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by maxume (22995)

          "Znork's third edition, now with only 16 trillion characters per page!"

          (It would still require ~1^187 pages...)

        • by warrior_s (881715)

          Well, given an alphabet of just 'a-z' + ' ', that would be 26 ^ 140 or:

          1, 248, 155, 560, 712, 888, 693, 721, 116, 035, 178, 646, 463, 649, 590, 092, 724, 076, 699, 557, 919, 198, 775, 318, 840, 655, 335, 967, 337, 203, 969, 601, 545, 498, 350, 937, 608, 330, 255, 529, 112, 180, 176, 094, 892, 997, 792, 623, 787, 890, 917, 357, 870, 916, 489, 701, 094, 150, 005, 153, 729, 071, 148, 146, 282, 725, 376

          which is quite a few possibilities.

          actually its 140^26... 140 characters each with 26 possibilities

          • by warrior_s (881715)
            oh nevermind.. 26^140 is correct

            Well, given an alphabet of just 'a-z' + ' ', that would be 26 ^ 140 or:

            1, 248, 155, 560, 712, 888, 693, 721, 116, 035, 178, 646, 463, 649, 590, 092, 724, 076, 699, 557, 919, 198, 775, 318, 840, 655, 335, 967, 337, 203, 969, 601, 545, 498, 350, 937, 608, 330, 255, 529, 112, 180, 176, 094, 892, 997, 792, 623, 787, 890, 917, 357, 870, 916, 489, 701, 094, 150, 005, 153, 729, 071, 148, 146, 282, 725, 376

            which is quite a few possibilities.

            actually its 140^26... 140 characters each with 26 possibilities

      • Is that a registered copyright for each one? According to the U.S. Copyright Office, an "Online registration of a basic claim in an original work of authorship" costs $35. So let's pull out the old adding machine and multiply 35 by 128^140, and...

        Oh my.

    • 140 Characters? You can copyright 140 characters?

      Apparently. And things like C&D letters, and ... Whatever happened to the purpose of copyright being promotion of science and the useful arts?

      These things are created for a specific purpose, which does not require them to be sold, and they would exist regardless of being copyrightable. So WTF is the point of them being copyrightable?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        Whatever happened to the purpose of copyright being promotion of science and the useful arts?

        You have got to be kidding.

        If we ever get the "free market" that lots of people seem to believe in, we'll be paying fees for breathing. That's how it works: people who get lots of money get power. When they get power, they pass laws which help them get more money. The money has to come from somewhere, and the easiest target is the set of people who don't have lots of money or power. That's about all of us.

    • Re:140 Characters? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by retchdog (1319261) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:46PM (#27393233) Journal

      Here is an "anthology" of six-word-long short stories; maybe you'd agree that at least a few of them are art?

      http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html [wired.com]

      (Of course, there might be a problem with "derived works" here - Alan Moore and Darren Aronofsky independently wrote basically the same thing.)

      • How about a similar venture already on Twitter [twitter.com] inspired by that very Wired article? Stories in exactly 126 characters.

      • by Draek (916851)

        In my opinion, all of them are art, being the product of human creativity, but none of them should be copyrighted. Consider for a second what would that mean: we are giving a specific entity the exclusive right of copying and distribution over *SIX* words. Six.

        You even notice the inherent problems of such an idea yourself, the extremely fucking high possibility of someone else doing the same thing as someone else, without knowing. So, no, and the same applies to Twitter posts: regardless of the artistic mer

        • by retchdog (1319261)

          OK, then where is the cutoff? Even in longer works, coincidental overlaps happen (for example, to use Alan Moore again, the ending of the Watchmen is very similar to an episode of The Outer Limits from 1968, although he came up with it independently), and even six words gives you a lot of leverage. To be conservative, there are well over 10000^6 possible six word sentences. Although not all of them are semantically unique, the number of ideas expressible in six words is staggering.

          • by retchdog (1319261)

            Sorry; when you include two or three words for prepositions and articles, my lower bound is safer as 10000^3 (one noun; one adjective; one verb, of each of which there are well over 10000). That's still a trillion sentences.

    • Re:140 Characters? (Score:4, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:59PM (#27393419) Journal
      I take it you missed this at the bottom of the page:

      All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners. Comments are owned by the Poster. The Rest © 1997-2009 SourceForge, Inc.

      You own the copyright on all of your posts.

    • 140 Characters? You can copyright 140 characters?

      Dibs on the first 140 characters of all amino acid sequences of every human gene!

    • 140 Characters? You can copyright 140 characters? Maybe. Can you copy this post?

      Copyright © 2009 Morgan Greywolf. All rights reserved.
    • Morgan Greywolf,

      Your friends at MediaSentry have detected numerous illegal downloads of your post from around the world! We have logged several hundred IP addresses accessing your content via the popular post-sharing site "Slashdot." We at MediaSentry take copyright infringement very seriously and would like to see every man, woman, child, and printer responsible brought to justice.

      We accept all major credit cards and most souls (sorry, major deities only).

  • by Lordfly (590616) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:13PM (#27392827) Homepage Journal

    ...automatically assumed to have copyright attributed to the author?

    I had no idea Twitter had some mystical "copyright-defeating aura" about its service.

    • by geekmux (1040042) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:22PM (#27392963)

      ...automatically assumed to have copyright attributed to the author?

      I had no idea Twitter had some mystical "copyright-defeating aura" about its service.

      The only thing about Twitter that is "mystical" is its ability to stay popular and relevant well past its 15-minute window...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Microlith (54737)

      Works must meet some level of "creativity" before they can be copyrighted. Many Slashdot posts would qualify as such, as people stop and take a second to put thought into them (sometimes.) Twitter encourages lots of little posts that are more like wafts of thought, things you'd say to someone. The exception here is that it's printed text and that "someone" is an audience of a bunch of people.

      I'd wager that most twitter posts probably (frequently) fall below the line of value in terms of being copyrightable.

      • Re:Below the line (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TaoPhoenix (980487)

        Nope. Quit that wager before you lose your shirt.

        Tweet posts are copyrightable works as long as trivial outliers are avoided. Ignoring issues like TOS grabs, the lower bound is much shorter, perhaps down in the 1 word range.

        You can fit two haikus per tweet - no one's going to deny the creativity there!

        Just because most people burn their characters on facile content doesn't automatically strip away the copyrightability.

        What's happening is that it's hard to find a Fair Use fragment since the whole is so short

    • by Rix (54095) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:28PM (#27393043)

      You can't copyright facts, for example. If you get up on a soapbox on Main St. and yell that the Mayor is a space alien, the local paper can report that you did so without any invocation of copyright. They can quote parts of your screed under fair use. TFA discusses this part, if you'd read it.

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        The local paper can report that you did so without any invocation of copyright.

        That's different. You are talking about the fact that you spoke, not the content of the speech.

        They can quote parts of your screed under fair use.

        Yes, because your "screed" is probably a copyrighted work.

    • by fm6 (162816)

      I'm not an expert on copyright law (possibly I'm the only Slashdot user who doesn't consider himself a universal legal expert) but it's my understanding that brief utterances are not copyrightable. Recall that tweets are a maximum of 140 characters. For example:

      I'm not an expert on copyright law (possibly I'm the only Slashdot user who doesn't consider himself a universal legal expert) but it's my

      • Poetry is the easiest bust of your pure character count.

        See my longer note above.

      • Ah, but what if someone posts 140 characters of text that encodes a copyrightable program? DMCA takedown time! Or should I say DMCA anti-circumvention clause time?

    • by Znork (31774)

      There's a certain level of creativity and uniqueness needed for something to be considered a 'work' too; a single sentence or two are not automatically copyrighted with any certainty or you could be sued for writing just about anything. I haven't seen any fixed length anywhere, but you can probably expect anything that could ever be uttered during a reasonably normal conversation to be unprotected by itself (compare poems that may qualify under creativity or uniqueness, etc).

      • Ad slogans are encroaching on this end. They take ordinary usages out of parlance with a slight twist to tie in with a product brand.

        • Ad slogans are encroaching on this end. They take ordinary usages out of parlance with a slight twist to tie in with a product brand.

          Are you sure that's copyright and not trademark?

      • by stinerman (812158)

        There's a certain level of creativity and uniqueness needed for something to be considered a 'work' too;

        Yes. The so-called "spark of creativity" standard.

        a single sentence or two are not automatically copyrighted with any certainty or you could be sued for writing just about anything.

        Not so fast there. Copyright attaches to how you got the "copy". If I actually copy a copyrighted work w/o permission, it is infringement. If I come up with the same work independently, it is not infringement (have fun prov

    • isn't anything created automatically assumed to have copyright attributed to the author?

      Close. It's that anything creatIVE is automatically copyrighted upon creation.

      If you can tweet a poem that fits into 140 characters -- and I defy you to write a haiku that does not -- then it is protected by copyright. Absence of any context indicating otherwise, tweeting your friends that you "ordered a hamburger minus tomatoes, who even likes those" is not a creative work and thus not copyrightable.

  • yes.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by inerlogic (695302)
    as soon as you create something, it is protected by copyright.... as long as you're in the US (YMMV in other countries)

    and yes, ESPN can quote.... as long as its newsworthy.... news is covered by fair use...

    plus, ESPN is owned by Disney.....
    they can get away with anything....
    • by Zironic (1112127)

      Quotes in general are covered by fair use regardless of their newsworthyness. The problem with twitter is that the quote is likely to be the entire post since it's soo small.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JWSmythe (446288) *

        That makes it interesting for copyright law. It's my understanding that if you quote an insignificant piece, that's simply a quote. If you quote the whole work, then it's infringement.

        Like, it's generally (but not always) ok to quote say one line from an article in a magazine. But if you copy the entire article that's a little fuzzier. If you copy the entire publication, you're just not going to win no matter how it's argued.

        So, to quote an insignificant but complete phra

        • by Todd Knarr (15451)

          Or you can take a page from the RIAA and sue ESPN for statutory damages. Commercial use... yep, ESPN's stories are definitely commercial, they make money from publishing them. Willful... yep, ESPN knows (being in the publishing business) that written works are automatically copyrighted and that they can't reproduce them outside of fair use without the copyright owner's permission. Quoting the entirety of a work for commercial gain doesn't sound much like fair use. Statutory damages run up to $150,000 per wo

          • +7 Insightful.

            We spent our time moaning over the RIAA's effects on copyright in the music context, but the damage they caused spills over to all copyright situations, including this one.

            "Little people" like to be known, but Big Corps in a bad mood wouldn't like rampant copying.

            • by Todd Knarr (15451)

              It'd be a good object lesson, though. There's an ancient curse: "May you get exactly what you wish for.". The monkey's paw, the genie in the lamp, there's a pattern there.

        • IANAL, but you don't need a © to mark something as copyrighted, at least in the U.S. Things are automatically copyrighted unless you explicitly release them into the public domain, or they are ineligible for copyright (e.g. a random string of numbers and letters like 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0) (IANAL, not sure about the 09 F9 thing, you might get sued if you assume I'm right).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by langelgjm (860756)

      as long as you're in the US (YMMV in other countries)

      Signatories of the Berne Convention are not allowed to impose formalities for the granting of copyright. Meaning in Berne Convention countries (the vast majority of the world), you don't need a registration to have a copyright.

      You may need a registration for other purposes; e.g., in the U.S., you have to register your copyright before bringing a suit for infringement.

  • Why? (Score:2, Funny)

    by arizwebfoot (1228544) *
    Why are we all a twitter over something that was twittered when it should have been tweeted. Or are we tweeting over something that was twittered by using a twitter that refused to tweet?

    Tweet tweet?
  • Its not long enough, the snippets would have to be sufficiently expressive to be copyrightable. Like an entire haiku might be copyrightable, but a sentence, idea, thought, or word is not. Otherwise you have copyright law protecting slogans and phrases (the work of trademark law).

    The copyrightable expression circulation (circ 34) is currently down, but its normally found here: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ34.html [copyright.gov]
    • by TinBromide (921574) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:27PM (#27393031)
      from the cache page. [74.125.93.104]

      Names, titles, and short phrases or expressions are not subject to copyright protection. Even if a name, title, or short phrase is novel or distinctive or if it lends itself to a play on words, it cannot be protected by copyright. The Copyright Office cannot register claims to exclusive rights in brief combinations of words such as:

      * Names of products or services
      * Names of businesses, organizations, or groups (including the name of a group of performers)
      * Names of pseudonyms of individuals (including pen name or stage name)
      * Titles of works
      * Catchwords, catchphrases, mottoes, slogans, or short advertising expressions
      * Mere listings of ingredients, as in recipes, labels, or formulas. When a recipe or formula is accompanied by explanation or directions, the text directions may be copyrightable, but the recipe or formula itself remains uncopyrightable.
    • by detachable_halo (1519547) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:56PM (#27393369)
      Just a simple proof:
      Character count is less than
      One hundred forty

      Copyright © 2009 detachable_halo.
    • by langelgjm (860756)

      You could fit a haiku into less than 140 characters. In fact, many haikus are shorter than sentences.

      • Correct, so if you type everything as haiku, the twitter post would be copyrightable, but if you got rid of the line breaks, it wouldn't. That's why I mentioned it. For instance, this common twitter type post would be copyrightable

        Going to pee now,
        I Drank too much beer just now,
        I will Poop also.

        But in the dichotomy, this isn't:
        Going to pee now, I drank too much beer just now, I will poop also.
        • by langelgjm (860756)

          Nah. Things don't have to conform to a standard kind of poetry or literature to be copyrightable.

          While line breaks are important for a haiku, they are not going to be the threshold for whether a given sentence is considered "creative."

          On that note, I wonder what's the length of the shortest portion of text that has been sued over (and not thrown out)...

          • from the copyright office's circulation 34.

            "Names, titles, and short phrases or expressions are not subject to copyright protection. Even if a name, title, or short phrase is novel or distinctive or if it lends itself to a play on words, it cannot be protected by copyright."
            • by langelgjm (860756) on Monday March 30, 2009 @06:11PM (#27394517) Journal

              You'll notice the conspicuous absence of the word "sentence" from what you quoted. Never have I read anywhere that a single sentence is ineligible for copyright. It's certainly not in Title 17. Part of the reason is that "sentence" is of an undefined length. Sentences can be very short. (like that one) Or they can be very long, like the kind you find in the last chapter of Ulysses.

              My point is that if a haiku contains enough creative content to qualify for a copyright, a sentence of the same length, containing the same amount of creative content would also qualify.

      • They are?

    • What about entire stories [twitter.com]?

  • In the TOS instead of saying the author keeps the copyright and that they suggest they submit it to the public domain, Twitter can just take it upon itself to do so. If anybody will get upset with that... well, thats kinda ridiculous.
    • Public domain might be a good solution for individual twits, tweets, tweens, whatever. But I can imagine someone doing something elaborate and creative with Twitter over the course of months and hundreds of posts. They might want to eventually publish it as a book, which is harder to do if they've lost all copyright claim to their work.

  • I don't even need an infinite number of monkeys to accomplish that! Given a large but still finite number of monkeys it wouldn't take long to cover a substantial portion of the problem domain. For my first test we will be using 32768 monkeys. What's that? I'm being told that Congress has legislation pending to ban the sale of primates across state lines! DAMN YOU CONGRESS!

    Ok. Plan B: I'll write a perl program to enumerate all possible 140 character combinations and post them all to Twitter. Then I'll sue

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by langelgjm (860756)

      Ok. Plan B: I'll write a perl program to enumerate all possible 140 character combinations and post them all to Twitter. Then I'll sue anyone else who posts for copyright infringement! That'll show them who's boss!

      27^140 = 2.45995398 x 10^200

      Good luck with that... and that's assuming that twitter posters are only using 26 letters and a space!

      • by shird (566377)

        That's also assuming any combination of letters would make a valid word. If you were to use a dictionary and made combinations from that it would be a lot smaller.

    • by TRRosen (720617)

      Ok average word length of 5.1 plus 1 for a space. 140/6.1 = 23 words. So where looking at combinations of 23 words that form a sentence or at least a coherent thought.

    • Not a good idea. You're going to inadvertently publish every state secret that can be described in 140 chars. Off to Guantanamo!

  • but hey if you think you can come up with something original , creative, non-obvious and non-derivative in 140 characters, more power to you.

  • no one can sue Cortney Love for Libel. Because no matter what she says its still coming from Cortney Love and lets face it if your reputation can be damaged by what she says you don't have a reputation.

    this sort of reminds me of the stupidity of suing an anonymous poster on a web site. Until you sue them its just some meaningless rant from an idiot on the internet and is pretty much ignored. But once you file a lawsuit you add validity and public attention to there statement. In reality you cause the damage

  • Why are we even discussing this? no of course you can't copyright 140 characters in a specific sequence and of course I can write the same line everywhere I please, without giving a crap about what the original author thinks or having to pay him. Why you ask? because its frakkin' common sense. Slashdotters usually agree on not wanting to end up living in a police state, brought forth by the endless new IP legislation. By discussing and thus taken seriously that 140 chars, what amounts to a sentence, you're
  • Haiku (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tokerat (150341) on Monday March 30, 2009 @06:36PM (#27394937) Journal

    One-hundred forty;
    that is all the space you get.
    Haiku is covered...

  • dibs on [*jI{,0lWbI9Xor1R]0&7jumJk_u7O3rY~;T+L@b.j{gYny,K)2cs'P>s03*_G}8F9mQe.4tx/[Q}T^I^q,Rx\pkm$vLLsdr,QDr`XgXhB*fwh0VYf}43J(w=5Ia'):nb"1li)

  • " ... The first is whether or not the content is covered by copyright -- and, for most messages the answer would probably be yes ..."

    Sorry. Nope. Not a chance. Never. Specifically mentioned in most copyright law as un-copyrightable, no less. Like titles. You have a song titled "Away with their heads'? So do I. The lyrics are different? Good then. Not actionable. Live with it; the world has for a century.

    Too short, and an enforced limit at that, taking the doubt right out of it. If it's not a form of poetry

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