Be more careful with Tweets™ now

"COULD YOU take down that screenshot of my Tweet? It's private and it breaches my copyright," someone asks. OK then. But... there's an interesting question here, which affects journalists told to compile stories from Tweets. And: are screenshots of Tweets™ allowed?

Twitter screenshot: @jack, do your Display Requirements forbid screenshots?

A self-referential screenshot of a Tweet

It used to be a good rule of thumb in UK law that a headline was too short to attract the protection of copyright. (This was before the days when all online headlines were topped and tailed with "Several things that will astound you about..." and "...here's why!") We'd say a Tweet using all the traditional 140 characters is firmly in the grey area; and we'd predict that a court would say that a new-style 280-character Tweet was copyrightable. That'd be a matter for the court, in the end, of course.

Tweeters' contract with Twitter, its Terms of Service, say "You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display" - and then of course go on to claim a blanket licence to do what the Twitter corporation wants with that content, and to license others to do unspecified stuff. Then Twitter's Developer Agreement and Policy grants you a licence to "Copy a reasonable amount of and display the Content on and through your Services to End Users..." So it looks as though the Tweeters granted Twitter a licence to grant this licence... and that this says you're OK in law.

This means that if you give someone permission to Tweet a photo, for example, you are granting a lot more people a "licence" to do a lot more.

But then we come across Twitter's Display Requirements, one of eight agreements embedded in the Developer Agreement. These appear to attempt to prohibit displaying a screenshot of a Tweet - on Twitter or elsewhere online - for example by specifying that all the clickable/tappable links must work, which is probably impossible on a screenshot on Twitter. We're not sure how they'd enforce this - but trademark law seems like a likely option. They do explicitly permit printing Tweets and using them in broadcasts. The Freelance hasn't yet had any response from Twitter clarifying this.