How Twitter’s grant to the Library of Congress could be copyright-okay

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Twitter is giving a copy of the archive of all tweets from the beginning of time to the Library of Congress. The inevitable outrage has ensued. One big concern is privacy. You gotta admit it’s creepy (and evokes Big Brother) to know that all your tweets will belong to the feds.

The other outrage-catalyst is copyright, and the possible violation of the license that one grants to Twitter via the terms of service.

Venkat and I exchanged some email earlier today on this topic. What if you delete your tweets? Doesn’t that terminate the license you gave to Twitter to store and share your content? How can the Library of Congress still keep its copy if the original license has ended? Fred Stutzman has also asked these kinds of questions.

These objections seem to presume that if one were to remove his or her tweets from Twitter, the license would be revoked, and any subsequent display by Twitter would be an infringement. I imagine that’s true in relation to Twitter, but I’m not so convinced when it comes to the Library of Congress. They’d likely fall under Section 108 of the Copyright Act.

Section 108 (17 USC 108) says that it’s not an infringement for a library to make a copy or distribute a work if (1) it’s not for commercial advantage, (2) the collections of the library are open to the public or available to all researchers in a particular field, and (3) the notice of copyright in the original work remains intact or if no notice can be found, there’s a legend stating that it may be protected under copyright.

You see what I’m saying? The Library of Congress would appear to have the right to archive one’s Twitter stream regardless of any assitance on Twitter’s part. In other words, by providing the archive, Twitter is just helping the LOC do something it’s entitled to do anyway.

What do you think?


  1. 17 usc 108(a) allows one copy. Do you really think the LOC will only make one? Also Twitter is not an employee of the LOC.

  2. Eric: How many copies do you think the LOC will need to make? It’d take an awful lot of disk space to have more than one copy lying around. Not sure I see what you’re saying about Twitter not being an employee…

  3. Perhaps they will only make one copy for practical purposes. But 108(a)’s limitation on 106 applies only to the library/archives or its employees, not Twitter’s employees.

    “it is not an infringement of copyright for a library or archives, or any of its employees acting within the scope of their employment, to reproduce no more than one copy…of a work”

    I think it’s pretty clear that Congress intended for 108(a) to apply to works already in the possession of the library/archives, not to function as a way for a library/archives to acquire additional works.

    Of course, for anyone to bring a copyright claim, they’d need to register (and likely would not be eligible for enhanced damages) and to prove that there was copyrightable material in their tweets, so the field of potential plaintiffs is not so large as one might think. Further, it looks like the TOS may allow Twitter to sublicense content to the LOC (even if users have already removed it from the service), so the point may be moot.

  4. I think a lot of people are going to be shocked by this. Assuming, of course, that they even really hear about it. Why would the LOC be so interested in social media that it would make copies of it to begin with?

  5. Now what if you are not an American citizen, don’t my nation’s laws supersede any other nations when it comes to me? I do take into account that Twitter is not based in my country nor does Twitter subscribe to any of our legal statutes, but Twitter is available in my country. Anyway I assume the Library of Congress is somehow violating my rights according to your statutes… are they?

  6. And you thought Obama was not trying to monitor you.

    Where is the LOC optout on copying my data?
    Where is the LOC privacy policy that states they will copy my content?

    If you do not like this then do not vote Democrat.

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