How To Piss People Off: Publish A Book Using Their Tweets Without Asking Them First
from the common-courtesy dept
A few years ago, when Twitter was starting to take off, we questioned whether or not Tweets were covered under copyright. While technically tweets could definitely be covered by copyright, it’s still a little bit murky, especially with the “retweet” as an integral part of Twitter culture. That said, there’s no doubt that people feel ownership over their tweets, especially those who lovingly craft wit and humor into each of the 140 characters. Recently, the editor of the book Tweet Nothings, a book of curated Tweets, sent an apologetic letter to the people whose Tweets were included in the book — after the book had already been published in December:
Dear Mr. Barnes,
We sincerely apologize for using your Tweet in our “Tweet Nothings” book without contacting you prior to publication! I wrote the introduction and compiled quotes from Twitter for the book at the direction of the publisher. I do not make any money from this work. We did want to contact each person quoted in the book; the publisher’s legal advisors said it was not necessary under fair use guidelines. We sincerely view this book as a celebration of Twitter, and an introduction to some of the best and brightest people to follow. We are very sorry if you or anyone is offended or upset by the book.
I would be more than happy to send you copies of the book. Please accept my apologies.
While the apology is an admirable step, the anger seen in the reviews of the book on Amazon is not unexpected. This is not a “fair-use versus copyright” issue at all. This is a “doing the smart, right thing” issue. Whether or not we think that people should feel ownership over their “ideas” is moot — the issue here is that they do, and as such, to ignore that is short sighted. Books have successfully been assembled using Tweets before. For his book, Twitter Wit, editor Nick Douglas did a good job working with Tweet authors, who had to explicitly submit their best Tweets to be included in the book. As a result, not only was his book received favorably by the Twitter community, every one of the included authors, who are supposedly the most witty on Twitter, each became a promoter for the sale of the book — a winning promotional combination.
So, by not involving the Tweet authors in the publishing of Tweet Nothings, the publishers not only attracted the ire of the wronged authors, but also missed out on a huge opportunity for free, viral promotion. After the exchange with Barnes, the publisher, Peter Pauper Press, issued an official apology in which it said:
We regret that we did not contact the people whose quotes we used in advance. We will be contacting each one with an apology. In the meantime, we are ceasing to sell the book in all venues and will not resume sales until everyone quoted in the book is satisfied with our response.
If that’s the case, and if the publisher stays true to their word, then they may never be able to sell the book again. After all, Merlin Mann, one of the wronged Tweet authors, seems irrecovably pissed.