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.