A stream of consciousness

(Note: I really wanted to call this post ‘Don’t Cross the Streams’ but I knew people would be mad it wasn’t about Ghostbusters.)

I am so very up to date with TWiT podcasts now that I have even impressed myself! I was just listening to this weekend’s episode of This Week in Google, and there was a section of it I found really interesting. About half an hour in, they started on the topic of the Library of Congress creating an archive of all Twitter streams. That led on to some fascinating conversation.

Firstly, if you’re going to make an archive of Twitter, does it make sense to just have the streams? Lots of Twitter is made up of links to other things – and without those other things, you’re just left with a lot of non-functioning bit.ly links, and tweets about Glee. It would make more sense to archive the whole of the entire interwebs ever.

That leads nicely on to the Internet Archive, who are trying to do just that. Leo, Gina and Jeff touched upon the copyright issues involved with archiving the web. Is it right that you can save and display content that I have put up and since taken down? Any web savvy person has long since come to the conclusion that you can’t hide anything on the net. Once it’s up, it’s up, and you have to deal with the fallout. Fine. But where does intellectual property fall into this?

I forget whether the following topic was a story in itself or if it led on from the discussion of copyright, but next up under the microscope was the idea of making a book out of tweets. Merlin Mann was particularly vocal when his tweets were used in a book that gathered together the best of Twitter. He said:

Ephemeral as this material might seem to anyone who didn’t write it—whether to the publisher who essentially stole it, or to the readers who share my grave distaste for the glut of similar shovelbooks—it’s simply not cricket to compile and sell a collection of anything other people have made without asking permission, negotiating a license, and paying a mutually agreeable fee to the creator. Period.

During the show, Leo looked at the Twitter terms of service and they did say that tweets are your copyright but by putting words into Twitter, you’re granting them the right to use and relicence them. Perhaps this book sought a licence from Twitter. I haven’t investigated the story to that degree. I’m more interested in the general concepts this throws up.

Why does it seem less important that a book gathers together tweets, whereas if a book scooped up the best articles on the web without permission, it wouldn’t last five minutes on the shelves of any bookshop. Both are published in a public forum, but perhaps the short-form nature of tweets mean that it feels less like a work of art and more a passing comment.

I can imagine that Merlin, who clearly puts a modicum of thought into his 140 characters, might be more upset than someone like me, who tweets if they see a passing wasp. Even so, I don’t think I would be happy for my tweets to start appearing in a book without my knowledge (like that would ever happen), but it still doesn’t feel as big a deal as ripping off the long-form written word.

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “A stream of consciousness

  1. I’m not entirely sure what the point of a book of tweets is, if I’m honest. Seems odd that someone would go and buy a whole book on people’s tweets, plus I can understand Leo’s frustration at the fact they are reselling on what is technically you’re own copyrighted words but I suppose the small print changes everything. I wouldn’t be bothered if Twitter used my tweets in a book (although they’re all about Muse) but I would still not understand what the point of them using them would be.

    Also, your alternative title would have been brilliant. 🙂

  2. I was given a book for my birthday which was collected tweets from the followers of David Pogue (NY Times Tech Columnist) which were all responses to his Question Of The Day. It’s your classic ‘smallest room’ book, for dipping into, not reading front to back.

    Amazon: http://j.mp/byHuH1

    There’s a good bit in the foreword about tracking down each Twitterer and asking their permission – you’d think it would be as simple as a DM asking if it was OK but they had to jump through some hoops to pull it all together. Interesting legal area.

  3. As far as I can see, the Internet Archive is in the same territory as the national deposit libraries of various countries, which are supposed to receive at least one copy (sometimes two) of any book published in the country where the deposit libraries reside. (The UK has five, the USA and Israel have one each and other countries have them too). The differences are that at least some of the deposit libraries are meant to pay retail price for the books (though I’m not convinced they do because large publishers probably have discount pre-arrangements or something) and the deposit libraries are under legal obligation to archive those materials. Neither of these apply to the Internet Archive and could theoretically lead to trouble. The six-month wait between gathering information and publishing it may be for this reason.

    Interestingly, since 2002, the Israel deposit library is also legally required to hold a deposit of internet material originating from Israel, on the same basis as books.

    The “book of tweets” is another kettle of fish. Those are for commercial gain and unless it’s Twitter itself doing the publication or every single contributor of tweets has granted specific permission, I don’t see how that’s legal.

  4. Merlin’s on This Week in Law this week, and he goes into some detail about his problems with this (I’m just listening to it now) and the lawyers do have a couple of interesting points to make.

  5. Here’s a question on the back of this… Not that many people that I know have actually read Oscar Wilde, more have seen his plays but not everyone I know.

    However almost everyone knows an Oscar Wilde quote. These will have been collected in books of quotes.

    Now I’m certainly not saying that this means that people shouldn’t have to ask permission. But I’m curious about the blurring of the lines. If I wrote a blog post where I said, “as Merlin said in his tweet the other day…”, do I have to ask permission first?

    He might say that this is different because it’s in a book, but increasingly I think that’s a false division. I could have adverts on my site – and I would still be creating a product from his work even if I don’t have ads.

    I’m not saying he’s wrong to be cross about being included in a crappy book. And I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have asked his permission – I think they should have. But I’m not sure what they did should be illegal.

    I think what Merlin stands for is being better citizens and a better citizen should ask first. I just don’t think that it is or should be illegal.

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