Web Wanders: Tweet and miss

  • Twitter
  • Thursday, 06 Mar 2014

OWNERSHIP DEBACLE: Copyright issues often crop up when sharing content on, or from, social media sites.

Web Wanders - Susanna Khoo

THESE days, you could literally be committing a crime just for being a movie fanatic. Well, if you decide to publicise your obsession via social media too extensively, that is.  

A recent incident involving a Twitter user who goes by the handle @555uhz (https://twitter.com/555uhz) was a case in point.  

Beginning from 10.15am on Jan 23, this user tweeted frame by frame screenshots from the movie Top Gun at half hour intervals. No comments were included with these tweets, although all the pictures that were posted had English subtitles in them. 

These tweets generated tons of interest and support amongst the Twitter community. At the time of writing, @555uhz already had accumulated 7,380 followers. Even renowned sites like Mashable, Yahoo! News and BBC had also written of their amusement with these Top Gun tweets. 

However, the novelty of it all was soon put to an abrupt end by Paramount Pictures Corporation, the owners to the copyrights for the Top Gun movie. 

The organisation sent a Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA) letter to Twitter on Feb 21 requesting the removal of all Top Gun images from @555uhz’s account. 

As a result, that Twitter account was reportedly suspended. It later become accessible once more, but there have not been any further tweets posted since 9.15am on Feb 25. 

Several of the Top Gun images from @555uhz’s past tweets are also missing now. The message “Media not displayed — this image has been removed in response to a report from the copyright holder” appears as a placeholder instead. 

It’s interesting to note, though, that not all of the pictures were removed. 

Mean streak 

Some quarters have voiced out online that they felt that Paramount Pictures Corporation had overreacted in dealing with this situation and were just being “big bullies”. After all, @555uhz had not said anything derogatory about the movie, nor were there any commercial gains that came out of posting such tweets. 

Besides, it could be argued that Top Gun is an old movie anyway (it was first screened in 1986) and most people would already have seen it before. 

Another online opinion that I came across was that those who have yet to watch Top Gun may actually become keen on hunting the movie down to view it for themselves after seeing @555uhz’s tweets. In other words, these tweets could be viewed as a form of free publicity. That’s quite a valid point, if you asked me. 

Well, we could also speculate that perhaps the person behind @555uhz isn’t really a movie enthusiast after all. Perhaps he/she could just be someone from within the film industry who is trying to make a public statement via anonymous means. But we’ll never really know for sure unless Twitter were to reveal the real identity of @555uhz. 

Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t really stand to reason that there was any real harm done to Paramount Pictures Corporation here that warrants such a reaction from them. Granted, @555uhz has chosen a rather unusual way to tweet about a movie, but I don’t think he/she ought to have been punished in this manner. 

Drawing the line 

What this incident shows is that there’s still plenty of grey areas when it comes to the usage of social media content. And based on what I’ve seen so far, it seems like everyone isn’t quite on the same page when it comes down to what is deemed acceptable or otherwise. 

In the past, there have been plenty of other episodes involving Twitter and copyrights, or a lack thereof. 

Back in January, a tweet composed by American journalist and chief film critic for The New York Times, Anthony Oliver Scott was featured in a full page print advertisement in the newspaper that he works for. It was used by CBS Films to promote the movie, Inside Llewyn Davis

Although Scott had earlier been approached by the movie’s publicist regarding the use of his tweet, he apparently had not agreed to it. Nevertheless, the ad still made its way onto print with a modified version of his tweet in it. CBS Films paid around US$70,000 (RM228,235) for this. 

In a separate incident in August 2012, apartment rental marketplace app, Lovely did a similar thing when it featured tweets from journalists Alex Wilhelm, who at that time was writing for The Next Web and Jeff Elder, then the director of marketing at Storify. The tweets were featured in ad campaign posters that were put up around the San Francisco area in the United States. No prior permission was sought from either reporter. 

Both companies justified their actions by saying that since those tweets had been published in the public domain, they should be able to freely use them.  

But in reality, as pointed out by many sources online, a person’s tweets cannot be used for commercial purposes without first getting the consent from its creator. Failing to do this would be a violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service. The consequences of disregarding these terms has, however, been left rather ambiguous. (It’s worth noting, though, that Twitter itself has reserved some rights to edit and republish tweets, and extends this privilege to its partners as well). 

Anyhow, in both cases, the writers who were affected did not initiate any legal action against those companies so there really wasn’t much of an issue in the end. 

Nevertheless, it’s quite worrying that companies can easily intimidate or take advantage of users on social media. Perhaps more regulations are required to prevent such circumstances from occurring in the future. 

Socially acceptable 

These are just some of the many issues that have arisen with regards to social media in recent years. And it isn’t just on Twitter. Other platforms like Facebook and Instagram have had their share of controversies as well. 

In general, I think it’s safe to assume that for as long as there aren’t any safeguards put in place by authorities to address these problems, it’s likely that the boundaries between what’s considered a permissible use of social media content versus what isn’t will continue to be blurry. 

The best that we can do as users is to make sure we stay informed of our rights and responsibilities on all the social media platforms that we’re active in. 

And of course, we have to be extra careful of what we post online at all times because we never know what trouble our words could get us into. 

Honestly though, I still think everyone is taking social media far too seriously. That to me is the real crux of the problem. 

(Susanna Khoo looks forward to seeing companies and individuals find better ways to co-exist in the social media space without continuously stepping on each other’s toes. Share your thoughts on these issues with her by e-mailing susanna@thestar.com.my.)

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