Are you using that newfangled Twitter thing-a-ma-jigger? Are you using the oh-so-easy-to-upload-your-pictures-from TwitPic to add pictures to your tweets?

Stop It. Right Now.

A few weeks ago, TwitPic altered their terms of service. In so doing, TwitPic did a land grab that walks right up to (are they crossing it?) a line I’ll call “WE’RE GOING TO STEAL FROM YOU AND PRETEND THAT WE’RE DOING YOU A FAVOR”. Maybe TwitPic has good intentions. But I doubt it, and the new TwitPic Terms Of Service says they have the right to appropriate your copyrights. So I’ll say it again:

Stop Usng TwitPic, Right Now.

I’ve reproduced TwitPic’s terms of service dated May 10, 2011,  because I have a feeling TwitPic will be changing them very soon:

In fact, I’m all but certain of it. Yesterday, when TwitPic’s land-grabbing terms of service starting getting attention all over the Internet, TwitPic founder Noah Everett, who has an amazing 2.6 million followers on Twitter, posted this tweet, aimed at a few people (including some famous ones) who I’m guessing had expressed concerns.

Speaking from the perspective of a guy who does Intellectual Property Consulting, let me break this down for you.

If you originate something, you own copyright in it. In most cases, a photographer owns copyright in pictures he or she takes, even superseding the rights of the subject. I (Jeff Yablon) own copyright in the words you’re reading here. But I’ve assigned the right to these words to PC-VIP Inc., and you’ll notice that this site says so.

At TwitPic, the terms of service that you assented to (when you started using the site) grant TwitPic the right to use your pictures. And that makes sense; if you put your pictures on TwitPic and TwitPic didn’t have that right, there could be problems.

TwitPic is careful to point out that the copyrights for your pictures belong to you and that they aren’t taking those away.

But then there’s this passage:

by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels

What that passage means is this: if you post a picture and TwitPic gets paid for using it not just on TwitPic but anywhere else, they don’t owe you any of the money they earn from your work.

Holy Cow.

Is this legal? Speaking as a non-attorney but something of an expert in business contracts and business process, I’m going to say that the answer is yes; TwitPic is giving you something of value (the ability to post your pictures easily and store them where your friends can see them), and in exchange they’re getting what you agreed to give them. That whole “I get something, and you get something in return” is the definition of a valid contract, and as long as the contract isn’t for something illegal, then it’s valid.

But it’s wrong.

You’re giving up way too much. You’re especially giving up too much if your work turns out to be important, or if you’re a celebrity who could sell his pictures to the kinds of magazines that are all too happy to buy them. And let’s face it; you didn’t understand that when you uploaded your pictures to TwitPic.

This morning, I pointed out the problem to Taylor Swift, Chad Ochocinco, Kanye West, and a few other famous people who are proudly trumpeted as having unwittingly gave their rights to TwitPic on the Twitpic home page. I’ve told Conan O’Brien, Wil Wheaton, Shakira, Diddy, and Mike Tyson about it, too.

Shakira, Mike Tyson, Diddy, Wil Wheaton, and Conan O'Brien Co-Opted Rights at TwitPic

And Now I’ve told you. TwitPic needs to change its terms of service, or you need to stop using it.

Copyright Issues Matter. Why? Because your copyrights belong to you. And the only way to make sure that stays the case is to control your materials personally.

Need help managing your Intellectual Property? Contact Me Here.

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