As long as you haven’t made your Twitter account private, every thought you broadcast can be seen by anyone in the world. However, any words or photos you Tweet, as long as they are original, are yours and, except in specific circumstances, can’t be used without your permission. So what can other people do with your Tweets? Can anyone take your Tweet and publish it on their website?
You Retain Copyright (But That’s Not the Whole Story)
There are two things in play here: copyright law and Twitter’s Terms of Service.
Copyright law is pretty clear: the text of your Tweets is yours. There are some Fair Use arguments, such as newsworthiness or commentary, that would allow someone to copy and paste the text contents of your Tweet and post it elsewhere, but for the most part, they can’t. The ideas in your Tweets, however, aren’t covered by copyright. Only the exact wording. As the New York Times reports, a Hollywood movie studio can take your idea and turn it into a film starring Rihanna.
This is all covered in the Twitter Terms of Service you agreed to when you sign up. You’re meant to read these before you tick the box that says you did, but almost no one does.
For this discussion, here’s the relevant section:
”You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. What’s yours is yours — you own your Content (and your photos and videos are part of the Content).
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). This license authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.”
So what does all this mean? Well first, Twitter acknowledges your copyright: “What’s your is yours.” They then go on to outline the terms of the license you grant them to use anything you post on Twitter.
People Can Embed Your Tweets with Twitter’s Tools Anywhere They Want
However, there’s a bit of a loophole here that still allows anyone to publish your tweets on their web site. As long as someone is using Twitter’s tools to share your content, they’re free to do it. Later in the Terms of Service Twitter states:
Twitter has an evolving set of rules for how ecosystem partners can interact with your Content on the Services. These rules exist to enable an open ecosystem with your rights in mind. You understand that we may modify or adapt your Content as it is distributed, syndicated, published, or broadcast by us and our partners and/or make changes to your Content in order to adapt the Content to different media. You represent and warrant that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the rights granted herein to any Content that you submit.
This means anyone can Retweet or Quote your Tweet without your permission, as it’s part of the service that Twitter provides. Where it gets more interesting is with Twitter embeds, like the Tweet below.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself, flies who look like they're plotting to take over the world and jellyfish.
— Justin High Sierra (@HarryGuinness) June 6, 2017
This Tweet is still technically on Twitter because it’s using their tools to display it, and pulling all the information directly from their service. It might appear on How-To Geek, but only because WordPress uses Twitter’s tools to display it. In this situation, both WordPress and How-To Geek are “ecosystem partners”.
Any website that uses Twitter’s embed API to display your Tweets is free to do so. The only way to stop it happening, is to turn your account to private or delete the original Tweet. If you delete it, it will disappear from any embeds on other sites as well.
While anyone can republish your Tweets, either by Retweeting them on Twitter or using Twitter’s embed function on other websites, they can’t do what they want with them, or use them without using Twitter’s tools. The Washington Post was found to have infringed on a photographer’s copyright when they took his photos from his Twitter feed and posted them on their website.