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Twitpic has sparked outrage among the Twitter user community by changing its terms and conditions.

Sometime early in May, the photo-sharing site replaced its broad (and ill-defined) copyright statement with a new, more detailed policy.

Formerly, the heart of Twitpic’s copyright was a single sentence: “By uploading your photos to Twitpic you give Twitpic permission to use or distribute your photos on Twitpic.com or affiliated sites.” [Our emphasis in italics - El Reg.]

The new policy adds a lot of detail, and has been interpreted as turning Twitpic into yet another outfit that crowd-sources free content that it can then onsell at a profit. The key items are:

“To publish another Twitpic user’s content for any commercial purpose or for distribution beyond the acceptable Twitter "retweet" which links back to the original user’s content page on Twitpic, whether online, in print publication, television, or any other format, you are required to obtain permission from Twitpic in advance of said usage and attribute credit to Twitpic as the source where you have obtained the content.”

A million sharp-eyed bush lawyers note that this means if someone wants to re-use something from Twitpic in, for example, a newspaper, they need to ask Twitpic, but not the original poster.

The second is this:

“…by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic's (and its successors' and affiliates') business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.”

In other words, Twitpic can do what it likes, including editing, with posted photos without asking the original owner’s permission.

The reaction has probably taught Twitpic – and other photo-sharing services who are probably looking at their own T&Cs, for reasons I’ll discuss in a moment – a valuable lesson. If you’re going to change the terms of service, don’t try to do it on the quiet. And make sure you’re willing to explain your reasons in public, rather than have others explain it for you.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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