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Twitter Thread Compiler Apps and Copyright Ethics (erynnbrook.com)
100 points by DoreenMichele 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments



> But I can’t support any product that aggregates content for profit and isn’t built from the principle of compensating and protecting content creators from the get-go

This is literally what twitter is.

> No, I don’t like screenshots of my threads being reposted on Facebook or Tumblr. I don’t like my tweets appearing in ad-filled listicles that someone got paid to write.

If you're going to speak publicly, and say something that attracts interest, this is inevitable. As shitty as "twitter journalism" is, at least they're providing correct attribution to the original author. This is how online discussions work, and I think that a rule that says you're not allowed to quote other people would be harmful to society.


> This is literally what twitter is.

Perhaps technically, but I think by "aggregate" she means by crawling, rather than places where people post themselves.

> I think that a rule that says you're not allowed to quote other people would be harmful to society.

Actual journalism, which just quotes parts or mentions the content in order to comment upon it (like you did), is very different from what she's criticizing, which is wholesale copying without any further purpose.


I'm not sure it's fair to say 'without any further purpose'. People aren't leveraging the functionality of a third party to show a thread of tweets for fun; they're doing this because the experience of reading a thread on Twitter isn't as good as it could be, and the (what feels like a) sudden proliferation of thread compilers is a testament to that. There's a definite value add I think, and while she may not like it, I don't see that going away anytime soon.


I think this perspective misses the major issue being criticised here and that is the fact that the thread compiler apps that compile threads without the author’s consent.

When you press “tweet” on Twitter you give Twitter consent to display your words on their website, unlike the compilers which will display it without consent


You don't just give Twitter consent to display your words on their website.

You grant [them] 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 authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.

https://twitter.com/en/tos Emphasis mine.

The permission you give Twitter also extends to thread compiler apps, to whatever extent Twitter feels like sublicensing.


Yeah the grant is liberal because someone would complain that, I don't know, twitter used a CDN or allows it to be displayed on 3rd party apps or or some other minor nitpicky complaint.

But yes, if you're writing on twitter, you are giving them permission to use your content.


> The permission you give Twitter also extends to thread compiler apps, to whatever extent Twitter feels like sublicensing.

But does Twitter sublicense? Why would they want to support usage of a third party service?


Twitter does sublicense, otherwise it would be impossible to use their API. I've looked at the developer agreement, and didn't see anything that would make these services against the rules.


> But imagine what she’d have if her name was attached to every instance of the image, doctored or not?

Of course that's one of the first edits that will be made: removing the credits. Especially when they're placed unobtrusively like in the example.

I do want to note something, though: the author uses some loose wording when mentioning the change to "copyright" the example image, but that's a little misleading: it was copyrighted the moment it was made, even without having the notice. A notice can still be a good idea for various reasons but I wouldn't be too worried about it, honestly.

Actually exercising your rights could be a fraught process for all sorts of reasons but you do have the option.


I understand where the author is coming from; people absolutely should be paid for their labors and if other people are making money off of that, the first person should share in that. Plus, there's definitely a desire for a creator--of any stripe--to want to have their creation viewed in the way that they originally created it.

On the other hand, and maybe this misses the point entirely, I absolutely loathe Twitter threads. I wish every time someone felt compelled to write "Here's a deep and insightful look at that thing you read me to find out about. /thread," the word "thread" would be replaced with a link to a long form post even if it had the same words. Part of it is Twitter's UI ("oops, page reloaded, back to the top you go") and part is

that it is

a little maddening to

read thoughts br

oken up into smaller

chunks and not

paragraphs.

That said, I agree more with my first paragraph than my second so I get it, and perhaps if I can't follow or respect the creator's wishes in how to consume the content that he or she created in the manner it was created, maybe I shouldn't consume it at all?


> perhaps if I can't follow or respect the creator's wishes in how to consume the content that he or she created in the manner it was created, maybe I shouldn't consume it at all?

I strongly disagree. While I also think that creators should be compensated for their works (for a limited time), after they get said compensation, they should get no say in how you consume the content, or what you do with it (with the obvious exception of making it available to others).


> after they get said compensation, they should get no say in how you consume the content

We need universal basic income alongside the abolition of intellectual property law.


Yeah, sure. IP is getting increasingly ridiculous over time, turning into a framework of rent seeking and abuse.

IP laws were meant to incentivize individuals to work for the benefit of the society - not to protect individual's abilities for getting passive income ad infinitum.


One part of IP law that needs to remain is attribution. We don't want people copying others work and claiming they made it.

Another part is trademark law. It should not be possible for e.g. coca cola to make Pepsi cans with horrible tasting drinks inside.

However, most of Patent law, and a lot of Copyright law should be scrapped.


> One part of IP law that needs to remain is attribution. We don't want people copying others work and claiming they made it.

The social norm against plagiarism is plenty strong.

It's so strong, in fact, plenty of people think copyright law prohibits it.

https://waxy.org/2011/12/no_copyright_intended/

> Another part is trademark law. It should not be possible for e.g. coca cola to make Pepsi cans with horrible tasting drinks inside.

And this is why trademark law shouldn't have been swept up under the illusory banner of "Intellectual Property" to begin with: Rightfully considered, it's a consumer protection law, not a property law.


> Another part is trademark law. It should not be possible for e.g. coca cola to make Pepsi cans with horrible tasting drinks inside.

I'm pretty sure that falls more under fraud than it falls under trademark violation.


Trademark law functions as an extension of laws against fraud. It really doesn't have much to do with copyrights nor patents.


> people absolutely should be paid for their labors and if other people are making money off of that

We're talking about twitter posts. This stuff has incredibly low value on its own. Viral content really only exists because it is all free and very easy to consume. Unfortunately, twitter and others(Facebook, instagram etc) do a lot of tricks to fool people into believing the content they post is valuable. So people start to think their post that received X amount of like or views is actually valuable. This is why people get so upset about seeing their content used elsewhere. Because they've been foolded into believing it has significant value. The reality is that it does not.


I'm all for having social contracts granting those who make (or synthesize from the ideas of others) new "creative content" time-limited monopolies, but I've never understood the idea that compensation for "creative work" is somehow a natural, inalienable right. It's a good bargain for society to have a construct that creates compensation for "creators", to be sure, but I just can't buy the idea that there's some quasi-moral component it.

(I do strongly get behind the idea that falsely claiming credit for the creative work of others is immoral, but that's a different thing than being somehow "entitled" to compensation. That's a completely different animal to me.)


I don't think the author is saying that she's entitled to compensation for her content. She's saying that if someone is to make money from it she should maybe be first in line, rather than someone who copies it verbatim onto their site filled with ads.


I was commenting on the sentiment expressed in my comment's parent. Specifically: "...people absolutely should be paid for their labors..."


> I absolutely loathe Twitter threads

I love Twitter threads because if they’re done right (which is a big if, admittedly) then they’re equivalent to an annotatable essay: each fragment of the thread can be replied to individually.

The difference between this and a traditional annotation platform is that Twitter forces the author to choose the granularity of the annotations, rather than leaving it up to the annotators. (Unfortunately, a lot of people do a bad job choosing this granularity, probably because they don’t realize this is what they’re doing.) Also, since the replies are themselves tweets, the system has a fractal form, with the annotations themselves being annotatable.

The number one rule of writing Twitter threads: do not split sentences between Tweets. Hopefully one day this rule will be widely known and followed.


The number one rule of writing twitter threads should be to never do it in the first place. Reading fragmented thoughts (and composing in terms of fragmentable thoughts) is ridiculous and then you have people replying to different parts of it, all in different chains that you have to follow down manually.

If you want to write longform, just write longform. If you want annotations, use software that actually has good annotating features and history tracking, such as google docs or maybe a paid alternative. Not twitter.


> I understand where the author is coming from; people absolutely should be paid for their labors and if other people are making money off of that, the first person should share in that. Plus, there's definitely a desire for a creator--of any stripe--to want to have their creation viewed in the way that they originally created it.

Does Twitter's terms-of-service mean that you've given away those rights to control how they're viewed or whether you're paid, though? (Not a rhetorical question.)


It looks like you retain the copyright, but you grant twitter and others (!) the right to display your work without compensation. I'm not a lawyer, though!

"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 authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same... Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services."

https://twitter.com/en/tos


> you grant us a worldwide

So if we were to colonize Mars, Twitter wouldn't have rights to the content there? What about Earth orbit?


This is actually an interesting legal question.

I suspect courts will interpret "worldwide" to mean "universal" if it comes up, as the intent seems clear.


There is definitely a use case here, but there is a difference between making threads readable for sharing outside of twitter, and adding ads or reselling content. (And in the original case, I think it's still reasonable for content creators to dislike their work being taken outside where they have less control of it.)

In some of the follow-ups there are some more ethical compilers: https://bobbin.herokuapp.com/ stores nothing and uses twitter's embed functionality to link them together, and https://threader.app/ doesn't monetize content and is working to get better at supporting creators.


The sites making articles from these threads is definitely an issue, though my experience is they don't exactly need these bots to do so. A disturbingly high percentage of articles on sites like BuzzFeed and Dorkly are basically just 'here are ten screenshots of Reddit posts about X', and those likely weren't done with bots. Lazy media sites reposting social media posts is its own issue.

Thread compiler apps and sites on the other hand... well I'm a bit more torn there. On the one hand, yeah, I guess it's not right if you're just reprinting others' work without their permission. But at the same time, most of these services do let you embed content, and do have an API. Isn't that basically what they exist for?

And aren't you already not getting paid for your work by using these services? You're not getting paid for posting on Twitter.


You're not getting paid for posting on Twitter.

Some writers are monetizing their Twitter threads. For example:

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4846197


This is an interesting angle! If these Twitter users could login to these thread reading apps and maybe attach a Patreon link to their accounts, is that a happy middle ground? Also, what if they link to their Patreon/Square Cash/PayPal/Venmo at the end of every thread? That will also get posted to these thread unrolling sites.


Twitter could help users monetize by adding a Flattr-like micropayment system where you could "tip" a tweet instead of just liking it. Likes could be more than just social currency. Twitter could make money off the float of money in tippers' and tippees' accounts. This might lead to more meme content theft because people would want to get tipped for other people's popular content.

Or Twitter could allow content creators could charge a subscription fee to be followed. Creators could allow their tweets to become public after a configurable number of hours so non-subcribers could see what they're missing.


I don't see a problem with people who aggregate content for money. They're providing a valuable service sifting through the vast sea of potentially interesting content and presenting it in a manner that is efficient and entertaining to consume. The information itself is not valuable, being shown that information in an efficient and timely manner is valuable. If you've posted your ideas or works freely on a platform that does not restrict access to it (Twitter, Reddit, HN, etc), then it is not a scarce resource and simply does not have value that can be stolen from you. Aggregators are giving it value by making it visible to their audience.

This all feels analogous to someone telling a joke to their friends. One of the friends taking the joke and claiming it as their own is a dick move, but we all accept that the joke was freely given away and that the other friends aught to be able to retell it without being forced to credit the original author every time they retell it (or pay them if they make money telling it at some point). It's an idea; once you freely enter it into the public sphere you don't and shouldn't have control or ownership anymore; it belongs to society.


Do you know why "thread compiler apps" exist and have userbase? Because your 50-part "story/article" on twitter is unreadable waste of time for some people and they invented solution for this problem.


She addresses that in the original thread — her twitter threads are specifically for her followers; they're not blog posts.


Do her followers have to use first party twitter clients? Are these thread compilers different than third party clients?


1) I don't think so.

2) They're different because they usually store and distribute her data somewhere other than twitter. If she deletes a thread, that copy persists. If people interact with that copy, she doesn't get to see or manage that. If it's through twitter's API, she can see interaction with her content and block people if they interact abusively. And third party clients generally don't profit off of individual threads.

https://bobbin.herokuapp.com/ is a compiler that is much more like a third party client; it all goes through twitter's API, and in follow ups she said it sounds fine.


Then she's admitting that she wouldn't have made any money from threader/tumblr users anyway, so what exactly is the issue?


She used to get requests to turn her threads into blog posts; now she does not.

Also, she didn’t seem to necessarily want money from them, but somewhat similarly to GPL’d open source projects, doesn’t like scrapers making money off of her work. Plenty of software devs license their work similarly to that as well, and it sounds reasonable to me.


I agree with the author completely in regard to the low-effort articles simply rehashing Twitter threads. I'm not sure if fair use would even be taken into account in this case, but I feel like this isn't transformative, and it's aiming to provide a replacement product.

However, I disagree on thread readers. They provide attribution to the author, so a reader has just as much opportunity to click through to the author's page as they would within the default Twitter client.

Yes the thread reader is getting ad revenue from displaying the content, but this isn't really money that the author would have seen anyway. If anything, Twitter is the one getting ripped off, so it's in their interest to improve the native thread reading experience, to capture back that lost revenue. The author says that they're not providing any added value, but I think their value is the improved readability of the thread.

Overall I think she's discounting the improved readability that these sites provide. She mostly just mentions that they improve shareability, which for me is a secondary benefit at best.


One would think that after nearly three decades of internet we’d all have agreed on this. It’s not ‘your’ feed, it is content you posted on a public forum. If you want to monetize it, find an audience and sell them your content in private, or generate revenue from the exposure.


I think normal copyright laws would apply, beyond small passages being quoted (except for maybe that Twitter's terms allow embedding tweets, thus creating a workaround). I can't just legally put together a PDF of all your HN comments called "ricardobeat's thoughts" and sell it at $40 a pop.


But you could do so with YCombinator’s permission.


I feel that blogposts or videos which are basically rehashes of viral Twitter threads or Reddit posts are quite sleazy.

My intuition is "repackaging, redistributing, or transforming freely available things" isn't a problem. But trying to make money from it is.

I can understand it's a pain if you're producing content regularly which is well received, but you're not paid for it.

I think that parallels the open-software stuff at the moment. (Licenses and creative-commons seem analogous in this case).

I think that "Donate to my Patreon to support my content creation" has worked out okay, though. It seems to have given more people more money than they'd otherwise get from a "only consume if you've paid" model. (Although 'Patreon supported' doesn't solve the sleazy redistribute-with-ads).


I get her point. But I have zero patience for Twitter. I've tried it. And it's just too fragmented for me to bother with.

The only way I could vaguely make sense of it is through thread-compiling clients. But I never found a good one for Linux. Is there one?

But websites that compile Twitter threads, and then serve them via apps, with ads? That's just fucking insane. I mean, just put the bloody thread compiler on Github ;)


ctrl+f 'transformative'... No matches.

I'm surprised by the sympathy I'm seeing for this position. You people know that she is effectively complaining about fair use, right? This is not something that can be budged on, even in deference to the feelings of a "writer/feminist/educator". Fair use is the only thing that stands between us and massive intellectual property cartels guiding the public consciousness through selective enforcement. Wanna go back to network television? Because this is how you do it.


Fair use isn't a blanket excuse to do whatever you want. The key component is whether your use is transformative. If you copy something to criticize it, or make something that doesn't compete with the original, it's likely fair use. If you copy something just to have it, or build upon it, it's not. This is a new issue, but copying someone's tweets, just to create your own library of tweets is not really transforming anything, I don't see how this is fair use.


Google "Richard Prince copyright". This is not a new issue, not even close.

BTW... She is using a still[0] from a video that CNN owns the copyright to, and section 3 of their tos[1] explicitly forbids doing what she is doing - with the unnecessarily stated exception "as otherwise expressly permitted under copyright law". You really want to take that exception away from her? I can pretty easily argue that her use is transformative, can you? How does this differ from what she is complaining about?

[0] http://www.erynnbrook.com/white-feelings-for-charlottesville... [1] https://www.cnn.com/terms


How is the use of that photo transformative in anyway? Did she add to it? Is the piece about criticizing the photo (which would be transformative) or is she using it as part of an opinion news piece (which isn't)?

And btw, the Prince case is illustrative because the judge ruled that some of his pieces were transformative, but others were not, walking that gray line.


> She didn’t know until after it had flown away that she should copyright it.

The default is for works to have an automagic copyright so you have to give it away (though a permissive license or public domain if your country supports that concept) else nobody can legally share it.

Think what she meant to say is she should have put her name on it so she got some interweb points.


That these third-party Twitter thread compilers exist means that Twitter needs to fix their threading UI.


Coming back to this though...I'm kind of interested in other things that makes content easier to consume. Instapaper, Pocket, other RSS apps, etc...yes, you have the original source and all that, but isn't it taking it away from the original medium in a way? Not sure if this is an apples to oranges comparison.


Well, if you start going on that path you'll also reach the complicated topic of ad-blocking. It's all about dividing control how content can or should be consumed, and how should various parties involved be compensated.


The DCMA provides exceptions for caching. But in order to be a cache you need to eventually and automatically reflect the wishes of the source. So, if the original content disappears it has to disappear from the cache too. Or, if the original content changes it has to be reflected in the cache too.

In the case of twitter, there is no equivalent for a per-account "robots.txt" and issues like this arise where you can't take your content back once it's copied. Twitter thread compilers should regularly check whether a tweet has been removed etc to turn into a cache and avoid these situations.


The DMCA (and copyright in general) is probably not relevant, because every Twitter user grants them essentially a license to do anything with their tweets, including sublicense them and such, so it's probably up to Twitter to revoke that permission if they wish.


> But imagine what she’d have if her name was attached to every instance of the image, doctored or not?

Then her name would be connected to a silly joke forever.


I believe the legendary Project Xanadu has an interesting approach, possibly restrictive, for dealing with this issue.

http://xanadu.com/xuTheModel/


Try http://tippin.me/ - we can only overcome the predatory economics of these platforms by experimenting


So how about Twitter thread compiler that's just a bunch of static JS on a CDN, that takes all its data from the URL and compiles threads client-side?

That ought to be fair under copyright law.


Whenever I see a twitter thread I immediately do not read it.




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