Monday, November 1, 2010

Trademarking “Twitter”


Twitter released a new post to their blog sometime yesterday regarding a fresh look in terms of logos, buttons and a few guidelines on how to get yourself associated with Twitter. When reading through their list of requirements it feels very much like a lot of them are ensuring that they don’t lose exclusive control of their trademarks. Then again I can’t help but feel it serves them right for leaving the definition of a tweet out on the side of one’s homepage as if it belongs in the Oxford dictionary. I suppose that they do wish to control the use of the word “Tweet” so that social networking sites and IM clients can’t refer to status updates as a “Tweet” eventually but whatever impact these guidelines might have on that, only time will tell.

What is more concerning is the way these guidelines have been put across. It isn’t like something you might read when you browse through the Apple App Store guidelines (PDF format). To Apple’s credit, as restricted as they may feel in many cases, it is a concrete guide that doesn’t feel like there are any doubts that could really be found. Looking at the “Twitter” resource guide however, I find some strange guidelines that have been put forward without any real specification on how it’s supposed to be defined.

For example their point

Using Twitter Screenshots

  • Use screenshots of other people’s profiles or Tweets without their permission.

One reading this would immediately think of the number of Tweets have been screen capped and used in new stories. Specially the breaking news sorts where someone has slipped up on Twitter, but before they can realise it and take it off, it’s already being posted around the internet. So a question that springs to mind is first up, how does Twitter plan on implementing all of this? Would they go throughout the internet searching for people who have used screen captures? Public flikr albums, blog posts etc etc? Thankfully Tech Crunch being a news blog that constantly uses screenies of Tweets to break news was kind enough to call on twitter for a few explanations. The fact that Twitter had to be contacted just to explain the rule at this level indicates the grey area they have left for everyone to misconstrue. Their response to this does very little to remove the questions.

This isn’t a new part of the policy and was stated in the guidelines before. This serves primarily to protect users from their tweets being used as endorsements without their knowledge. Public tweets are public. But if you’re going to use tweets in static form (e.g. in a publication), you should have permission from the author/user. For instance, if someone famous were to tweet about liking something and then it was used on a billboard.

This doesn’t apply to broadcast — there are separate display guidelines about that. Our policies also don’t attempt to control the appropriate use of tweets in news reporting.

For news, whether online or print, it’s okay to use screenshots of Tweets. The permission applies more to merchandise, billboards, etc. Users’ rights are key.

In today’s world what exactly do you define as the process of advertising to say that a Tweet cannot be used in it. What if there was a news article that hinted at the fact that someone’s Tweet endorsed something in particular? What if there was a Tweet that was used in a news article to say that a politician endorsed Anti gay movements? Isn’t this the sort of thing that Twitter wishes to protect its users from?

Question is, where do they draw the line.

If that wasn’t bad enough,

Naming your Application or Product, Applying for a Domain

Do: Use Tweet in the name of your application only if it is designed to be used exclusively with the Twitter platform.

Don’t: Use Tweet in the name of your application if used with any other platform.

So what happens to Tweetdeck, a point which was brought out, again, by Tech Crunch who were kind enough again to provide the official answer from Twitter.

Twitter responds briefly: “case by case basis”, suggesting Tweetdeck has nothing to worry about. The startup’s founder, Iain Dodsworth, echoed that sentiment on Twitter.

Wait, “case-by-case-basis”? Leaving aside Tech Crunch’s assumption let’s just look at the gray area caused over here already. That guideline is clear enough here. Why distort it at all? Somehow something about this set of guidelines just feels very incomplete. Sure hope Twitter makes an effort to clear this set of points that could be easily misunderstood.

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