Disappointing That Twitter Threatened Twitpic, But Story Doesn't Add Up
from the you-don't-need-a-registered-trademark dept
A few days ago, Twitpic, which was the original third party service for hosting images for your tweets, announced that it was shutting down “unexpectedly” because Twitter was threatening to pull its API access if the company didn’t drop its trademark application for Twitpic — an application that had been pending since 2009. Considering that Twitpic was one of the earliest of many third party services built on top of Twitter that helped make Twitter so valuable in the early days, it’s certainly disappointing to see it go. It’s also something of a legacy reminder that Twitter has been slowly, but surely, destroying all such third party services that helped make it so popular. That’s disappointing, if not all that surprising. Platforms all too frequently end up swallowing those who rely too strongly upon them — and, these days, to be honest, there’s little reason to use Twitpic instead of Twitter’s own image hosting (or some other options as well).
It’s even more disappointing that this is all happening over a trademark dispute. Back in 2009, in fact, we highlighted Twitpic as one example (of a few) of how Twitter seemed to take a very open attitude towards its trademarks and let the various companies building on its platform make use of different forms of “twitter” and “tweet.” A year later, the company was even more explicit in offering “free” licenses for its trademark for third party services. That’s pretty clearly changed these days, and building Twitter as a more closed system where all of the innovation has to come from within, rather than from third parties, is unfortunate (and potentially quite limiting for the future).
All that said… I’m really not sure I buy this excuse for why Twitpic is shutting down:
We originally filed for our trademark in 2009 and our first use in commerce dates back to February 2008 when we launched. We encountered several hurdles and difficulties in getting our trademark approved even though our first use in commerce predated other applications, but we worked through each challenge and in fact had just recently finished the last one. During the ?published for opposition? phase of the trademark is when Twitter reached out to our counsel and implied we could be denied access to their API if we did not give up our mark.
Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours. Therefore, we have decided to shut down Twitpic.
But… that makes no sense at all. Twitpic does not need a registered trademark in order to stay in business. It has no need to fight Twitter on this, and if its concern is the legal fees, why not just drop the whole trademark application. Registered trademarks have some uses, but common law trademarks are nearly as powerful for most important cases. Twitpic could easily just drop the trademark application process (saving legal fees there as well) and stay in business. The idea that you need a registered trademark makes no sense. The idea that you’d shut down the entire business just because Twitter opposed the trademark also makes no sense. It sounds much more like this was a convenient excuse for Twitpic to shut down while “blaming” Twitter for something, but without pointing out that the real problem might have been back when Twitter built in its own photo hosting service.