What Twitter’s new terms of use say

Twitter recently published new terms of service, replacing the old set which it has had on its site for quite some time now. Whereas the original terms of service were pretty simple, the new terms are fairly detailed.

Transitioning to a new terms of service

The change to the terms of service was effected in terms of the old terms which empowered Twitter to make changes on the following basis:

We reserve the right to alter these Terms of Use at any time. If the alterations constitute a material change to the Terms of Use, we will notify you via internet mail according to the preference expressed on your account. What constitutes a “material change” will be determined at our sole discretion, in good faith and using common sense and reasonable judgement.

The change to the terms are clearly material (there is a pretty obvious change from the one version to the next) and you probably received an email from Twitter’s Biz Stone on 10 September 2009 containing the following advisory:


We’d like to let you know about our new Terms of Service. As Twitter has evolved, we’ve gained a better understanding of how folks use the service. As a result, we’ve updated the Terms and we’re notifying account holders.

We’ve posted a brief overview on our company blog and you can read the Terms of Service online. If you haven’t been by in a while, we invite you to visit Twitter to see what else is new.

Overview: http://blog.twitter.com
Terms: http://www.twitter.com/tos
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com

These updates complement the spirit of Twitter. If the nature of our service changes, we’ll revisit the Terms as necessary. Comments are welcome, please find the “feedback” link on the Terms of Service page.

Biz Stone, Co-founderTwitter, Inc.

You may not have taken much notice of this email when you received it but it is noteworthy for a simple reason: Twitter is abiding by it own terms of service and is taking the time to keep its users updated on its changes to its terms. In addition notifying users of such a “material” change by email (as it is supposed to), the updated terms of use came into force as between users and Twitter. Again, that may sound a little obvious ensuring that terms of use are properly updated and that the updated versions bind all parties concerned is essential from a provider’s perspective.

Your access to the service

Some of the changes are pretty nuanced and indicative of a realisation that Twitter has a global userbase. An example of this is the age related access restrictions. The old terms contained the following restriction:

  1. You must be 13 years or older to use this site.
  2. You may not use the Twitter.com service for any illegal or unauthorized purpose. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

In contrast the new terms is a little less specific and, at the same time, has an arguably better approach to granting access to the service:

You may use the Services only if you can form a binding contract with Twitter and are not a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction. You may use the Services only in compliance with these Terms and all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations.

You’ll notice that the reference to a specific age has been removed, making way for a legal capacity limitation determined by whether you are able to enter into a contract with Twitter Inc (presumably in the form of the terms of service themselves). The new clause also limits access where some or other legal system may prohibit access to the service (there was a similar provision in the old terms, as you can see above). I prefer this approach even though it is a little vague. The 13 years of age restriction was a little arbitrary in isolation (although it may be the age at which US law recognises a capacity to contract, I don’t know).

Rights to content

One of the bigger changes to the terms of service is the inclusion of specific provisions dealing with rights Twitter claims over your content and the rights it grants to you over its content. The old terms didn’t facilitate use of your content very well at all. The approach was admirable, especially in light of how Facebook has historically approached user content, but not at all conducive to Twitter’s effective operation:

  1. We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Twitter service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours. You can remove your profile at any time by deleting your account. This will also remove any text and images you have stored in the system.
  2. We encourage users to contribute their creations to the public domain or consider progressive licensing terms.

Not claiming rights presents a challenge because Twitter does need to manipulate users’ content in order to provide the service. Taking tweets and republishing them on the site and otherwise making them available is arguably copyright violation in the absence of your agreement to those activities. The new terms are explicit about these issues:

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.
Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.

We may modify or adapt your Content in order to transmit, display or distribute it over computer networks and in various media and/or make changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to any requirements or limitations of any networks, devices, services or media.

You are responsible for your use of the Services, for any Content you provide, and for any consequences thereof, including the use of your Content by other users and our third party partners. You understand that your Content may be rebroadcasted by our partners and if you do not have the right to submit Content for such use, it may subject you to liability. Twitter will not be responsible or liable for any use of your Content by Twitter in accordance with these Terms. You represent and warrant that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the rights granted herein to any Content that you submit.

Twitter gives you a personal, worldwide, royalty-free, non-assignable and non-exclusive license to use the software that is provided to you by Twitter as part of the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling you to use and enjoy the benefit of the Services as provided by Twitter, in the manner permitted by these Terms.

I have emphasized the core licenses.

The new license and permissions provisions create a far better framework for the service’s operation and take into account the many uses users and organisations may have for tweets and other user content.

How the new terms impact on developers

There are a couple questions how the new terms will impact on developers who are taking advantage of Twitter’s API and on 3rd parties who may have republished tweets elsewhere. Evan Brown (of Internet Cases fame) wrote about some of these issues in a recent post on the subject titled “Do Twitter’s new terms of service forsake third party developers?”. He points out that because the license Twitter takes from you doesn’t contain a duration, the license can probably be terminated at will. Deleting your account would most likely constitute such a termination and the result of this would be that your content should be removed from Twitter’s servers.

Evan points out that 3rd party developers face a challenge if they have created applications that republish these tweets elsewhere because once the license to Twitter is terminated, the right to republish those tweets falls away and any republication becomes an act of copyright infringement. This may also technically create a tension between developers and Twitter if the developers are now technically violating users’ rights. I’ve taken a quick look at the API documentation and there doesn’t seem to be anything specific about licenses granted to developers so developers’ ability to manipulate tweets is presumably meant to be in line with the prevailing terms of service.

This issue may well be clarified in due course but developers are advised to include license provisions in their applications’ end user license agreements to cater for this lacuna in the terms of service.

General comments

There are a couple other changes to the terms of service including limitation of liability provisions and a consent to the law of the State of California and to the jurisdiction of San Francisco county in the event if a dispute.

The changes to the terms of service have really led to a better legal framework from a user perspective and the new terms are probably more benevolent than a number of other social networks including Facebook’s current Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This is a good thing for Twitter users even though they enjoyed a much lighter version previously.

As with any terms of use it is advisable to take some time to read through them and familiarise yourself with provisions like licenses, jurisdiction, codes of conduct and privacy policies (I haven’t reviewed the privacy policy for the purposes of this post). Terms of use are generally relegated to the background until something goes wrong. At that point they become crucial although it may be too late at that stage.

Published by Paul Jacobson

Enthusiast, writer, Happiness Engineer at @automattic. I take photos too. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad.

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