The Twitter dilemma: who owns all that content?

Given the importance that social media in general is taking on at present, it is very interesting to see that some fundamental questions – such as who own all this online content – are yet to be resolved.

Look at Twitter for a great example. When the US Courts wanted to access the complete history of Twitter users involved in the Occupy Wall St protests Twitter said that they are just an agnostic carrier of content – just like a phone company. They argued that the information within the tweets is actually owned by the users.

The court disagreed and asked Twitter to reveal the information, but even with this disagreement over ownership – and perhaps the practicalities of someone owning information they might have not access to – there is an important debate developing around who manages this information.

And Twitter is a good example because of the US court case, because now there may be additional problems for the company. If they own and are publishing the content users are tweeting – in a legal sense – then surely all the existing laws of libel, defamation, and so on can apply to the company rather than the individual using the service?

We are in a very confused place at present. Phone companies and mail operators act as conduits for their messages, likewise Internet Service Providers force responsibility for how their services are used onto the end user. If services like Twitter are going to be challenged in court and told that they need to be responsible for every last user then their business model will no longer work.

It’s not likely to happen, but where courts are concerned we are talking about the law – not justice.

twitter logo map 09

 

Photo by The Next Web licensed under Creative Commons

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