Note: The initial response, and a follow up comment from TNI, are included in at the bottom of this post. I thank them for taking the time to chime in.
I’m a fan of Traveler’s Night In, (#TNI) a well organized weekly Twitter chat that covers a variety of travel related topics. And I’m crazy for Twitter, the 140 character chat with the world interface. I recently learned that the folks that run #TNI, the ladies behind a travel web site called Zip Set Go, had compiled their favorites from the chat sessions and self-published a book — you can buy it from their web site. I’m sure it’s funny and surprising, just like my Twitter pals.
I don’t know if I’m quoted in the book or not, though I have participated in #TNI. I like to think I can hammer out a razor sharp 140 character message with the best of them, but I know for a fact I’m not the only one blessed with the ability to create a witty rejoinder. It turns out I care if one of my remarks made the book, but not because I’m looking for validation of my wit. It’s because I care about this: Who owns the stuff I write on Twitter?
The Traveler’s Night In page has a disclaimer that states the following (emphasis mine):
* By participating in Travelers’ Night In (#TNI) weekly Twitter event, you understand that your tweets or tweeted pictures may be used in an article, recap, blog or book by ZipSetGo.com and you agree to release and authorize the use of such content without compensation (except as prohibited by law).
I had never laid eyes on this disclaimer before I learned about the book. I’ve never seen a link to it during the the #TNI chat sessions — this doesn’t mean the hosts never posted a link to the disclaimer, I don’t know if they have or not, I’ve just never seen one. I had no idea that by joining this party, I was consenting to have my contributions used for publication. See, the chat takes place on Twitter, and the disclaimer is on their site. I don’t have to log in through the Zip Set Go site to join the chat. I don’t have to visit the site to join the chat. It exists in a completely different environment than the chat. I had absolutely no idea that my contributions could be collected and resold for commercial purposes. None.
My friend Eva Holland (who’s also an editor for World Hum) contacted the #TNI crew directly. She asked if they were concerned that probably, a lot of people shared my ignorance of the #TNI disclaimer. The response she received said that it wasn’t necessary to let everyone know — content on Twitter is public according to Twitter’s Terms of Service (TOS).
I’m not sure this is correct. From Twitter’s TOS page (emphasis mine):
You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. But what’s yours is yours – you own your content.
The additional research I did to find out if the #TNI approach was legal was… inconclusive. Interestingly enough, ABC recently settled with a photographer who sued when they used photos he’d posted via Twitter without his permission. (Here’s the full story.) In search of an educated opinion, I contacted Susan Getgood, a specialist in ethics and disclosure. We’re still trading email as she researches the issue.
World Hum, a publication I love, runs a “Great Travel Twitter Tweets” column on a fairly regular basis — it’s a handful of 140 character travel stories culled throughout the month. I know I’ve been in that list because they’ve linked to me — but I did not receive any direct communication telling me I’d be quoted. World Hum doesn’t post photos, though — as a former blogger for World Hum, I had to check public photos to make sure they were in line with World Hum’s Creative Commons restrictions.#TNI does a series of round up posts of their favorites from the chats, those are always fun to read and they’re similar to the World Hum round up. As with the World Hum posts, I’ve never been notified in advance that I’m included on the #TNI round up.
It’s almost always flattering to be quoted and included. But something about the Traveler’s Night In book as a commercial venture is bugging me, and I can’t pin it down. Maybe I’m mad because I’m not in the book and I have sour grapes. (Again, I don’t know if I’m in the book.) Maybe, by pulling the words off the web and selling them back to me, I feel like some kind of fuzzy social contract has been broken. “Um, did you sell my stuff?” Maybe I feel taken advantage of — I had no idea that there were terms, after all, I’d never seen them during the chat — I only discovered them after the book had been mentioned on Twitter.
I love community driven efforts and the funny chatter that the web can create but I’m fairly controlling about where my work shows up. You won’t see me in a lot of popular places because I’m a terrible, terrible snob. This means I don’t get out much, not in a publishing kind of way. Also, I like to be compensated for my work, especially when it’s used for commercial purposes. In the land of fake internet currency, if I’m quoted on the World Hum or the Zip Set Go web round up, I get a link of some kind. It’s also easy, because it’s the web, to request that my work be removed should I make that choice. But if my words get locked away in a book, I get…I’m not sure what I receive in compensation. The delight of discovering I was included?
Something isn’t sitting quite right with me in this situation, and perhaps you, readers, can help me figure out if I’m just being overly territorial with my words and pictures or if there’s a genuine issue at hand here. With that in mind, I have questions, as follows:
- Do you participate in #TNI?
- Did you know that they were collecting your words and images for use in a book?
- Do you think this is a problem? If so, or if not, why?
- Have you been quoted in the online round up posts? If so, do you think this is different than being quoted in a for sale print book?
- Do you care what happens to the words you post to Twitter?
I welcome your thoughts. If you’d like to remain anonymous in your response, that’s okay — make up a name and leave the website field empty. Please use your real email though — it does not get shared and it will help me rescue you when I check the spam filters. Oh, and be nice. Anything that can be construed as a personal attack will not be approved.
From the Zip Set Go Team:
Thank you for allowing us to provide our viewpoint on your blog!
The #TNI book was never intended to upset anyone nor was it intended for financial gain. As the creators of the Travelers’ Night In #TNI twitter chat, our intent has always been to bring together avid travelers and learn about the world from each other – the book was just an extension of that idea.
Similar to the weekly recaps of #TNI that have been created by several travel bloggers, the book simply summarizes the event in a fun, easy-to-read format for those who happen to miss a week or just want to relive the discussion. The difference between print vs. internet is negligible, as significant readers have forgone hard copy reading for digital blogs, articles and books and incidentally most blogs are intended for financial gain through advertising or other revenue sources.
We did not embark on this project without a great deal of short phrase copyright law and public domain research, as well as legal advice regarding our responsibilities. In fact, we did reach out via Twitter to those who were included and received no negative feedback – most were very excited to be a part of it.
We appreciate your feedback and that of your readers and will certainly take all this into account before producing any further editions. Thank you again for posting our response!
On this response:
I think a lot of what’s stated here is irrelevant, regardless of if I agree with it or not. With regard to the relevant points, I have questions.
- If the book isn’t for financial gain, why isn’t it either free or to benefit a non-profit organization?
- It’s unclear, but the statement about reaching out to those included doesn’t say when that happened. Was that before or after the book was made available for sale?
Follow up from ZSG, pulled from the comments:
The #TNI book has been removed from publication and will not be published in the future. For the record, there were only 19 copies published and 7 of which were ordered by our team. All profit will be donated to charity. As stated earlier, the intent of the book was only to further share the fun and informative chat that #TNI has become, however this discussion has removed anything “fun” about it.
Those who seem most bothered by our actions are not even in the book and seem to be fighting for a much bigger issue over intellectual capital. That being said, we hope that all who are championing this cause find solace in winning this tiny battle you have undertaken.
Update, January 14: If you make it through all the comments, I have a sort of FAQ here in response to a few top level issues. Also, it’s come to my attention that TNI pulled the terms disclaimer from their site.