What is ownership? A case of Twitter

Last year while doing a project for the workshop Introduction to Scholarly Communication my team created guidelines for Archiving Tweets of Political Events using Archive-It. Working on this project we encountered interesting issues surrounding copyright ownership and access. The issues of copyright and ownership were related to the push by libraries to archive publicly available web content to prevent its easy loss (Antracoli et al., 2014). The harvesting, archiving, and curation of social media, particularly Tweets, is a new issue and their copyright and ownership dimensions have yet to be tested in court (Small, Kasianovitz, Blanford, & Celaya, 2012). We made our recommendations based on ample research and our opinions.

We learned there is a great deal of debate around copyright and ownership issues related to Twitter and Tweets. Some argued that users who choose to make their Twitter accounts public cannot object to the reuse or collection of their Tweets, as users have the option to privatize their account.  At the same time, if a Twitter user’s tweet is indeed used, the user may view Tweets as a means for personal expression and therefore may wish to be credited for this expression (Small et al., 2012). There are three arguments against Tweets as being copyright material in Canada in the United States. First, the short length of one hundred and forty characters makes Tweets possibly ineligible for copyright protection (Reinberg, 2009; Small et al., 2012). In addition, much of what is posted on Twitter is the statement of common-knowledge facts or their impression, which are not copyrightable. Furthermore, many tweet comments are written in a similar manner, making copyright difficult to discern. Those scholars who argue for Tweets as copyrightable believe that some Tweets represent originality, as defined under copyright, or that a collection of Tweets as a whole potentially meets the minimum necessary for copyright protection (Reinberg, 2009).

We decided that no matter the outcome of the copyright decision if the tweets were used in an academic library they could be circumvented by the Twitter Terms of Service and/or the Fair Dealing exemption of copyright law in Canada. According to Twitter’s Terms of Service, posting Tweets grants Twitter “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)” (Twitter, Inc., 2016b). By this standard, Twitter owns every Tweet, but public Tweets are also useable for educational means. Under the Copyright Act’s Fair Dealing exception, an individual is able to use copyright material for research, private study, education, satire, parody, criticism, review, or news reporting. Through the Political Tweets Librarian, academic libraries can harvest publicly available Tweets and their use for research, study, and other educational purposes falls clearly under the Fair Dealing exception of Canadian copyright law.


Antracoli, A., Duckworth, S., Silva, J., & Yarmey, K. (2014). Capture all the URLs: First steps in web archiving. Pennsylvania Libraries: Research & Practice, 2(2), 155-170. doi: 10.5195/palrap.2014.67

Reinberg, C. (2009). Are tweets copyright-protected? WIPO Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2009/04/article_0005.html

Small, H., Kasianovitz, K., Blanford, R., & Celaya, I. (2012). What your Tweets tell us about you: Identity, ownership and privacy of Twitter data. International Journal of Digital Curation, 174-197. Retrieved from http://www.ijdc.net/index.php/ijdc/article/view/214http://www.ijdc.net/index.php/ijdc/article/view/214

Twitter, Inc. (2016b). Terms of Service. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/tos?lang=en

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