Twitpic takes pictures, literally

Screenshot of Twitpic homepage.

CORRECTION: This report mischaracterizes the Terms of Agreement of Twitpic, an app for tweeting photographs. The terms do give Twitpic the right to use or distribute any user's photos. But they also say: "All content uploaded to Twitpic is copyright the respective owners. The owners retain full rights to distribute their own work without prior consent from Twitpic."

Kai Ryssdal: Let's say you're visiting Los Angeles, and you're having dinner in one of those celebrity hangouts. And some well-known starlet fresh from rehab just happens to go past you on the way to the ladies' room. You grab your phone, snap a picture and upload it to Twitter with an app called Twitpic. That way you can share your paparazzi moment with your friends, then maybe pay for the trip by selling the shot to gossip sites like TMZ for thousands of dollars.

Sounds great, except for that last part. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman explains that even though you took the picture, you don't own the rights to it anymore.

Mitchell Hartman: A celebrity photo agency called World Entertainment News Network now has the exclusive right to license and sell photos Twitter users post to their own accounts, using the app Twitpic.

Molly Wood is executive editor at technology website CNET. She says this is just the beginning.

Molly Wood: Now, these news and photo agencies are coming along and saying 'We're going to take control of the rights to these photos, make money off them, and sue you or other people if they try to use them.'

This photographic land grab is included in the "terms of service" -- it's all that small-print legalese most of us just scroll through, then click "Agree."

Wood: You have very few rights when it comes to terms of service, and the fact is, they almost all have boilerplate language around being granted some sort of license to your photos.

There's already a backlash. Ellen DeGeneres, who has millions of followers on Twitter, announced she won't post pictures using Twitpic anymore.

Technology analyst Carl Howe at the Yankee Group says this isn't just about celebrities.

Carl Howe: Recently, Stefanie Gordon took a picture of the Space Shuttle launching.

No reason you should know who Stefanie Gordon is -- she's not rich or famous. She just happened to be on an airplane above the shuttle as it burst through the clouds, pulled out her phone, snapped, and uploaded to Twitpic.

Howe: And that photo was shown on all the major broadcast networks.

But if she ever wants to sell the images, let's say, for a "Great Moments in Shuttle History" coffee table book, well, she better have a good lawyer.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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Just to clarify as our service, TwitrPix, is also a photo sharing site for Twitter users -- every site in which you can share media has in their terms of services certain rights you're giving them by using their service. Unfortunately most people do not read the ToS nor do they fully understand them.

For the most part the confusion and fear is when a site has an aggressive ToS in which you are also giving them free license to use your photos for other purposes (ie. they license it to 3rd parties without your consent). Sites have a responsibility to be more transparent with their users.

Our ToS clearly outlines what we provide and what, by using our service, you give us the right to do. Some of our peers in the industry feel that its ok to license your photos and generate revenue on your content. We do not. It's not right nor is it fair and we wrote a blog post on this very subject the other day. Feel free to check it out at http://bit.ly/lE3v8i

I am not surprised at all! I wish users would be more protective of their own personal lives (and that of their friends/family) before posting ANYTHING on any site or app. However, if I take a photo, I am not automatically protected by a copyright like other visual arts? Can not protect my own image as well?

as a non-twitterer, I'm confused. Is twitpic a third party app? In other words are there other ways to upload pictures to twitter and it just happens that this one app does this or is Twitter itelf doing the grabbing?


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