Twitter has been making a lot of changes lately, and photographers may want to re-read that fine print in the Terms of Service. Photo nerds at PhotoFocus did, and after consulting with their lawyers, they were alarmed to discover that every photo you share on Twitter can be sub-licensed by Twitter, or worse – all royalty-free.

A close look at Twitter’s Terms reveals that Twitter can do pretty much anything it wants with photos you publish via its service, and there isn’t much you can do about it. Granted, third-party photo sharing services’ (like TwitPic) various Terms are of equal concern. And people who use Twitter for “throwaway” photos won’t care, but this revelation is a serious concern for professional photographers who legally can’t sell “exclusive” rights to any image they publish through Twitter. That’s because once it’s on Twitter, it’s no longer “exclusive.”

CARL Book Beacon picked up the story and noted how this affects not just the pros, but anyone who might care what happens to their photos:

It’s OK, we’re librarians, we know no one actually reads words any more. Here’re the juicy parts:

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).

OH WAIT. THEY GET TO USE MY STUFF FOR FREE? What if I don’t want photographs of Aunt Edna’s 80th birthday party used commercially? I mean, I was wearing a very ugly hat that day, and I had stains on my shirt.

But wait, there’s more!

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.

THEY CAN SELL IT TO THIRD PARTIES, LIKE THE AP, AND I GET NO REMUNERATION, BUT TWITTER DOES? So, like, if I just so happen to be at a major event, snap some pictures as it unfolds, and Tweet them from my phone for my friends to see, they could end up being sold to CNN or the Associated Press, and SOMEONE makes money off of my good luck (or hard work) and it’s not me?

Twitter can do WHAT with your photos? (via Techmeme)
Image via iconfinder.

Update: While debate rages about what it means for “Content on or through the Services” it’s worth nothing that when Chrome launched in 2008 we pointed out a similar ToS issue in Does Google Have Rights to Everything You Send Through Chrome? As it happens, Google responded to the controversy by removing the section. Meanwhile, comparisons made to Flickr and YouTube ToS are notable in that users grant the site a non-exclusive, royalty-free license that agrees to allow the site to display their images without paying any money – a user controls the copyright/license to her photo or video unless she chooses to surrender it. (These are also – unlike Twitter – primary content hosting services.)

Editor’s Note: Photography blogger Michael Zhang has posted a critique of this coverage and argued that the concerns raised here misplaced. His post is worth reading as well.