Time to Quit Using TwitPic?

Twitpic, the picture sharing service of Twitter, has signed a deal that allows a third party agency called World Entertainment News Network (WENN) to license images posted on Twitpic, according to The New York Times.

Under the terms of the deal, the celebrity news and photo agency would be allowed to authorize uses for photos it doesn’t own, and take legal action against anyone who uses Twitpic images commercially without the agency’s permission. Whether or not WENN will share revenues with the owners of the images is unclear, but it apparently has no obligation to do so. (CEO Lloyd Beiny did not immediately respond to questions about whether WENN would share any revenues.)

How could this be, you might wonder? Well, the Twitpic terms of service–which users agree to when they sign up for a Twitpic account–give the photo sharing service “a worldwide, nonexclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the [images uploaded to Twitpic] in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business.”

In short, if you upload your images to Twitpic, you are are agreeing to make them available for license without any promise of compensation, or control over how they might be used or distributed.

For the record, Twitpic account holders retain ownership of their images. And WENN says that it is primarily interested in pictures uploaded by celebrities with Twitpic accounts, according to the Times story. But as the Times story notes, the Twitpic terms of service “do not distinguish between the rights of celebrity and non-celebrity users.”

Coincidentally, the Twipic terms of service are at the center of a legal dispute between photographer Daniel Morel and two other photo agencies: AFP and Getty Images. They distributed Morel’s exclusive images of the Haiti earthquake without his permission, after he uploaded them to Twitpic. They claimed they did nothing illegal on the grounds that Twitpic terms of service allow Twitpic users to reproduce and distribute images uploaded by other Twitpic users. Morel’s lawyers counter that the Twitpic terms of service give only Twitpic and its business partners the right to reproduce and distribute Twitpic images, and AFP and Getty are not Twitpic business partners. That case is still pending.

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