Twitpic and Twitter can sell your photos, but they're not the only ones

Twitpic has been under fire for taking control of your pictures and selling them to newspapers. The controversy has turned the spotlight on other services -- and Twitter itself.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Twitpic has come under fire for taking control of your pictures so it can sell them to newspapers. The Twitter-focused picture-sharing service ignited a storm of controversy when it quietly changed its rules so it could sell pictures you'd taken, and required you to ask permission if you wanted to sell your snaps.

The controversy has turned the spotlight on other services -- and Twitter itself -- revealing that many services think it's okay to use your pictures.

The new Twitpic terms of service bar users from granting news outlets and media agencies the right to use or license photos. Any commercial use or distribution beyond Twitter requires permission from Twitpic.

When the new terms were spotted, Twitter users were up in arms and Twitpic hastily softened the language. A similar controversy saw iPhone camera app Instagram make a comparable change last year.

All apologies

Twitpic has apologised that the changes "caused some confusion for our users", and claims it was only trying to protect users from unscrupulous newshounds stealing your pictures.

Twitpic boss Noah Everett highlights that the terms have now been updated again "to be more clear and to also show that you still own your content". Everett insists it's standard practice for image-sharing sites to distribute your content to its affiliated partners, but it doesn't address the issue of Twitpic taking charge of the sale of pictures to third parties.

Everett is at pains to point out that you retain the copyright to photos on Twitpic. But that doesn't prevent Twitpic from distributing your pictures -- and in fact Twitter can sell any pictures posted on Twitter after signing a deal with entertainment picture agency WENN.

Blogger Chris Applegate -- the genius behind the Daily Mail headline generator -- watched the terms of service being edited before his very eyes, seeing paragraphs chopped and changed as fast as he could read them. The changes seem much stronger than the simple clarification suggested by Twitpic.

Twitpic is the best-established image-sharing service for Twitter users, letting you link to photos in tweets. It's been a source of citizen journalism as tweeters spotting newsworthy events -- such as the Hudson River plane crash -- capture the action on their phone, upload to Twitpic and share the link on Twitter. Twitpic has around 4 million users as the default photo-sharing option on many Twitter apps, although it now faces competition from services such as yFrog.

They're all at it

But yFrog is at it too -- in fact most image-sharing services are. The Next Web quoted yFrog's rules stating your content could be used by the service as it saw fit, giving the specific example of selling t-shirts with your picture printed on -- but the terms of yFrog and its sister site ImageShack have also now been hastily rewritten.

As much-hyped photo app Color puts it, "You don't have to use our Service, but if you do, you're giving us permission to use your Content."

Does this put you off sharing pictures with Twitpic and Twitter, or do you think it's a fair trade that they get to use your pictures in return for offering their free service? It's worth noting that news and media outlets are only going to be interested in the tiny minority of snaps that are newsworthy -- and/or celebrity-related -- but there's a principle at stake.