Twitpic: Laundering Images of Owners’ Rights

A London celebrity photo agency that has won rights to distribute pictures posted on Twitpic has told PDN that it has “no direct relationship with those posting images on Twitpic.” The statement implies that the agency, World Entertainment News Network, will not share licensing revenues with the image owners.

As The New York Times reported yesterday, WENN announced earlier this month that it had struck a deal to distribute images posted to Twitpic. Twitpic members retain the copyrights to the images they post to the service, but the Twitpic terms of service give Twitpic “a worldwide, nonexclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute” images posted by Twitpic users.

In response to a question from PDN about whether image owners would receive a share of revenues from the sale of Twitpic images, WENN CEO Lloyd Beiny said via e-mail that his company has no direct relationship with those image owners, “so I regret I am unable to respond to your question.” He declined to be interviewed by telephone.

Twitpic has not responded to the same question about compensation for Twitpic users, but if it has plans to share with them any proceeds from its deal with WENN, it hasn’t announced them.

But Beiny’s response to our question reveals a new level of power imbalance in the stock business: namely, the power of an agency to legally license copyrighted images without any interference from or obligation to the owners of those images. The Twitpic terms of service effectively “launder” the images of substantive ownership rights and control.

Image owners allow it to happen, though. Nobody forces them to accept the Twitpic terms of service. For many, it may well be a perfectly acceptable trade-off for a chance to share their images with the world. For others, the terms may come as an unwelcome surprise, but the onus is on Twitpic users to read and understand the service agreement when they sign up for an account.

Related Story:

Time To Quit Using TwitPic?

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7 Responses to “Twitpic: Laundering Images of Owners’ Rights”

  1. Brenda Bell Says:

    The clause in Twitpic’s TOS is a standard clause required to give them the right to display your images through their service. You will find there is a similar clause in the TOS of your Internet presence provider, whether that be a personal account, a blog account, a hosting service, or a provider who hooks your private, at-your-business servers to the Internet.

    It is to some degree predicated on the initial Internet group ethic of non-monetization (which has obviously since been replaced by the ethic of profit).

  2. Ex-Twitpic'r Says:

    Its not standard TOS nor is it fair and transparent. Most TOS for ISPs, hosting providers, etc. do not include a clause in which they can take your content and monetize it off platform and without your consent. It’s one thing to show a photo on your site and have ad banners on the page. Taking your photo and licensing it to another party is not fair.

    Want to delete your photo? Good luck. If they have licensed it, then regardless of you delete the photo or not, it has no bearing.

    If every TOS were like Twitpic’s then the interwebs would be an even more scarier place to be.

  3. SteveWhite Says:

    As a photo editor who’s worked with WENN’s image feed, I know how daunting it will be for them to look through, edit and caption all the images.

    It most likely a chance to pick up goofy features and crowdsourced coverage of entertainment events – red carpet, concert and fluke paparazzi shots.

    They also have to deal with the issue that they might sell an image that was posted to Twitpic illegally. In that case the real copyright owner can sue WENN because the person that stole the image didn’t profit from it and likely won’t get burned. I’m sure WENN is aware of this and should tread fairly lightly to begin with.

    This isn’t a cheap way to set up a micro stock site because the majority of Twitpic images are fuzzy camera phone shots of people’s lunch and posing in front of a mirror.

  4. Sunday 29 May 2011 Says:

    [...] Mario Tama (Guardian: May 2011)PDN: Time to quit using Twitpic?  (PDN: May 2011)PDN: Celeb photo agency in Twipic deal has no relationship with (or obligation to) owners of the images i… (PDN: May 2011)BJP has taken a look at what this year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles is going [...]

  5. kombizz Says:

    What a good idea.
    I am looking forward to hear more about this good news.
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Carl May Says:

    In the first place, this photo distributer is no an agency in any sense of the word.

    I wish all contemporary problems in this photographic price-demolishing era were so easy to fix: don’t post images to Twitpic.

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