Proving once again that you really can’t have your cake and eat it too, on Monday July 2, 2012, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. ordered Twitter to release three month’s worth of tweets belonging to an Occupy Wall Street protester charged with disrupting traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge during a 2011 protest march.
If they do read them at all they typically only look to see what their rights are and underneath the heading of “Your Rights”, Twitter’s User Agreement states,
“You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services (Twitter).”
Seeing that line in any agreement makes everyone feel at ease, even complacent. Most people assume that this means anything and everything they publish on a site belongs to them and the site owner, in this case Twitter, can’t share it without their permission and they happily start tweeting away.
Malcolm Harris, the man whose tweets are at the center of this controversy, allegedly made the mistake of sending out his plans for the Occupy Wall Street disruption in a series of tweets. At the time, he may not have even been thinking about the possibility that those tweets may be used as evidence against him in a court of law, but attorneys for the prosecution picked up on it right away and issued a subpoena for the Tweets.
Harris’ attorneys are fighting the subpoena, calling it an invasion of privacy and claiming that Twitter has no right to release the information because their user agreement clearly states that Harris owns the rights to all of his content.
Twitter’s own attorneys have also stepped in on Harris’ behalf, telling the court that Harris has every right to challenge the subpoena because of the clause in their agreement. However, it’s interesting to note that Twitter also said,
“Users own content they post and can challenge demands for their records, and it would be ‘a new and overwhelming burden’ for Twitter to have to champion such causes for them”
What Twitter is basically saying is they’re washing their hands of this entire matter. Harris agreed he owns the content, therefore Harris, not Twitter, has a right to challenge the subpoena. In essence, they’re agreeing that should Harris’ challenge be denied, they’re perfectly willing to turn over the information. Twitter is also saying they shouldn’t have to pay attorney and legal fees to help the guy out because Harris’ tweets are not their responsibility.
“You are responsible for your use of the Services, for any Content you post to the Services, and for any consequences thereof.”
“Under no circumstances will Twitter be liable in any way for any Content, including, but not limited to, any errors or omissions in any Content, or any loss or damage of any kind incurred as a result of the use of any Content posted, emailed, transmitted or otherwise made available via the Services or broadcast elsewhere.”
And according to Judge Sciarrino,
“If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
The moral of the story is this: You really can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If you want to be able to share you plans for world domination with all of your Twitter followers, and you’d don’t want anyone else to be able to share your plans without your permission, then you are essentially claiming sole ownership of those plans. And Twitter is perfectly willing to let you do just that.
But it’s a double-edged sword. You’re essentially relinquishing your right to privacy by sharing your plans on a public platform. And, if your publicized plans prove that you were involved in illegal activity then the court has an obligation to subpoena those records.
You can’t revel in the glory if your plan works and blame it on Twitter if it fails. By allowing you to retain ownership of your content, Twitter has no legal obligation to defend you in court, nor are they required to fight a subpoena on your behalf.
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