The Intellectual Property of Tweets

Last week, GaltsGirl tweeted a question to her followers.  She asked "Are tweets entitled the same intellectual property courtesies as blog posts?"  My answer was "If I’m using someone’s tweet for something I usually ask first. That said, I don’t see it as the same as a blog post IP-wise."  Unfortunately, thanks to the limited nature of Twitter comments and my assumption that credit would always be given, this led to a bit of confusion.  While I cleared up that confusion on Twitter (or, at least, I hope I did).  The interaction did inspire me to write about it at length.

Tweets versus Blog Posts

Part of the problem stemmed from my use of the phrase "I don’t see it as the same as a blog post IP-wise."  By this I meant that blog posts can be quoted without using the entire post.  If you quoted this article in a blog post of your own, you could say that I wrote:

Unfortunately, thanks to the limited nature of Twitter comments and my assumption that credit would always be given, this led to a bit of confusion.

However, if you "quoted" me by copying my entire article word-for-word, that would be copyright infringement.  Furthermore, while you should properly credit this quote, there would be no need to compensate me or even ask for my permission to use this quote.  After all, while this entire post is my intellectual property, a quote falls under fair use.  So copying this entire post to your blog could result in DMCA takedown requests, legal threats if those were ignored, and even large fines if the entire affair proceeded to the courts.

A tweet, on the other hand, is usually too small to quote part of effectively.  To quote someone’s tweet, one usually has to use the entire thing.  This begs the question: If using an entire blog post without permission is copyright infringement, is using an entire tweet infringement as well?

RTs and Inviting Infringements

On the Twitter platform itself, I’d say that quoting someone’s tweets isn’t copyright infringement.  After all, Twitter itself gives a method for doing this: Retweets.  What about off of Twitter, though?  Is using someone’s tweet in a blog post, a book, or some other medium copyright infringement if explicit permission isn’t granted?

Let’ remove two obvious "fair use" cases immediately.  If the quote is used for news reporting purposes ("Lady Gaga tweeted to her followers…") or parody, then permission isn’t required.  It is good form to ask permission, of course, but it isn’t a requirement.

Let’s also assume that credit is given.  If credit isn’t given, then I might be willing call it as infringement.  If someone tweeted something so interesting, insightful, foolish, or otherwise useful to your larger project, it’s only fair that they should get credit for your words.  You wouldn’t quote a passage in a book without stating what book that passage came from.  Similarly, one should never quote a tweet without naming the user who tweeted it.

Beyond those cases, I have to admit that I’m torn.  I’ve blogged about how you just can’t take an image off of Google Images and use it however you like.  Grabbing someone’s tweet and sticking it in your post, at first glance, appears to be like grabbing a picture from Google Images and putting it in your post.  However, the effort invested in a single tweet hardly seems to compare to the effort invested in making an image.

More Flexible Copyright Law

I think this example highlights the need to reform copyright law (something I’ve written about before).  If copying a five hundred page book leads to a $750 fine, why would copying a one hundred forty character tweet hold the same potential fine?  If copying an MP3 – which has a market value of $0.99 – leads to a $80,000 per song verdict, why would copying a tweet (market value of $0) lead to a similar fine?

In addition, profit motive should be considered when potential fines are calculated.  If the quoted tweet is used in a non-profit manner (say, in a blog post such as this one), then any "infringement" fees should be minimal.  If the quoted tweet was used in a for profit manner (say, a book titled "250 Great Tweets"), then infringement fees would be higher.

Protection of Public Statements

In the end, I consider tweets to be short public statements.  One can’t stand in front of a big crowd of people, say something, and assume that *NOBODY* is going to quote them.  Taking words out of context or not crediting them is unacceptable as is making money off of the tweet (in a non-news reporting, non-parody manner) without compensating the person.  However, on the scale of copyright infringement, using someone’s tweet without permission isn’t anywhere near as bad as taking an entire blog post without permission.


During my Googling for this blog post, I ran into an article about a similar issue.  In this case, there was a lawsuit not over a tweet, but over a short quote from WIlliam Faulkner’s Requiem For A Nun.  Sony Pictures used a nine word (97 character) quote from it ("The past is never dead. It’s not even past.") in the movie Midnight in Paris.  The Faulkner estate worried that the use of the quote in the movie might confuse people into thinking there was a relationship between the estate and Sony Pictures.  Sony Pictures, meanwhile, decried the lawsuit as frivolous.   On the day that GaltsGirl posed her question, July 19th 2013, a ruling was handed down stating that such a short quote didn’t constitute copyright infringement.

A little closer to the topic at hand, I found a TechDirt story about a journalist who claimed her tweets were "off the record" and thus weren’t allowed to be repeated by anyone.  When someone questioned her on this, she threatened a lawsuit.  It doesn’t look like she ever went through with it, but she did see the inside of a courtroom when she was convicted of harassing a former boyfriend’s daughter by posting her private journals online.  (Apparently she thought "off the record" tweets couldn’t be reposted, but private journals could be.)

This, in turn, led to more articles, including a 2009 blog post by Mark Cuban, all questioning just how copyrightable tweets are.

Expanding My Skillset

wordpress_bookIf there’s one thing that working in IT has taught me, it’s that learning is never over.  The minute you stop learning, your value to potential employers drops dramatically.  Instead, one must constantly expand one’s horizons and learn new things.

Recently, my company bought me some books on WordPress and web development.  Though I know how to work in WordPress, these covered areas I had never gotten involved in but meant to such as developing themes and plugins from scratch.

One day, during a very rare end-of-day lull, I decided to crack open "WordPress Plugin Development Cookbook."  Within minutes, I had the basics down and was developing my own plugin.  No, it wasn’t fully functional, but the path to that was laid before me and it looked like it was a short path indeed.

Now my head is buzzing with WordPress plugin ideas (both for work and as side projects).  I can’t wait to apply the knowledge I’ve already gained and I can"t wait to finish the book and gain even more knowledge.

Do you often make it a point to learn new things?  If so, what have you learned recently?

The Double-Edged Sword of Technology

double-edged-sword-technologyIn a piece for the Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson wrote that, were he in charge, he would repeal the Internet.  Though he admitted that the Internet brought with it some "astonishing capabilities", he claims these are more than offset by the existence of cybercrime and by cyberwar destroying "the institutions and networks that underpin everyday life."

Sadly, I think that Mr. Samuelson is overstating the risks, understating the rewards, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Even worse, I think he might be more than a bit biased in his opinions.

The Risks

First, let’s look at the risks of being online.  Yes, there are criminal gangs who would like nothing better than to hack into your computer.  Mostly, this is to use it to send out spam messages or to show you unwanted ads.  Sometimes, it might be to see what useful data is on your system.  More often, though, these criminals attack big companies.  Why grab little bits and pieces of data from individuals when you can break into a database awash with personal information.  One decent database breach can net you thousands of credit card numbers as well as enough personal information to steal the identities of tens of thousands of people.  Meanwhile, people from other countries would like nothing more than to cripple our country by hacking our utility companies, airports, stock markets, and more.

Scared yet?  Good.  But instead of cowering in fear and pulling the Internet’s plug (metaphorically speaking since it doesn’t have one in real life), let’s use that fear to spur some security upgrades.

Computers should run firewalls and antivirus software, both of which should be kept up to date.  People can be taught not to open any links they are e-mailed unless they come from a trusted source (and even then be suspicious).   They can be instructed not to run random software that they "bought" from a really cheap website hosted in Russia.  If that version of Photoshop was only $39 when it retails for hundreds of dollars, perhaps you should wonder just WHY it is so cheap.  As for those databases, they can be secured as well.

Of course, nothing is unhackable.  You can put fence after fence in the path of a hacker but some might still slip through.  This doesn’t mean you need to make it easy for them.  The more difficult you make it to hack in, the more you a) convince people to hack some other computer/server and b) require advanced hacking skills (which not every hacker might possess) to break in.  Raise the bar enough and your server, though not "unhackable", will be hack-proof enough to survive most attacks.

What about cyberwar?  For this, I’d recommend something that is indeed unhackable: an air gap.  This means disconnecting the sensitive computer or network from the Internet.  Why does a power company’s computer system need to be on the Internet?  Why would an air traffic control system?  Don’t connect these systems to the Internet and even the most skilled hacker won’t be able to penetrate them.  Want to see an air gap in action?  Try to hack the CIA’s sensitive information.  The CIA’s website might come under attack from time to time, but the actual sensitive information isn’t stored there or anywhere accessible from there.  (Documents might leak via people, but this isn’t an "Internet" issue even if said people post the documents online.)

The Benefits

Ok, so the risks, while there, aren’t so horrible and can be protected against.  Did Mr. Samuelson understate the rewards of the Internet?  Here, I must stop and admit my own personal bias.  I work as a web developer.  Were the Internet to disappear tomorrow, I’d be out of a job.  So, although there are plenty of economic benefits, I won’t focus on those.  Instead, let’s look at the social ones.

I’m a geek.  I like shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek and various other things that people around me don’t normally like.  In addition, I have Asperger’s Syndrome and don’t know too many people in real life who struggle with that.  In fact, I don’t know too many people in real life at all.  I struggle with real life interactions while I thrive online.  Were I to go back to "the old way" of meeting and talking to people, I’d wind up not talking to many people.

In addition, the people I did talk to would have a decidedly region-locked viewpoint.  With the Internet, I can talk to one person in New York, another in California, a third in Canada, a fourth in Australia, and a fifth in the Middle East.  Heck, I can even follow the tweets of someone orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station (@astro_luca and @AstroKarenN).  Try doing THAT sans Internet.

Furthermore, research would become a chore again.  Prior to the Internet, researching a topic meant going through thick encyclopedias (which sometimes might be a few years old), leafing through newspapers, or scanning through microfiche.  It was a slow and laborious process.  Nowadays, a few key Google or WIkipedia searches can get you much of your data.  While you should always back it up with better sources if your query is for a serious endeavor (e.g. a research paper), the Internet can jump start your research in ways that non-Internet methods can’t.

Is there a lot of fluff on the Internet?  Of course.  There’s a lot of trash too.  The key, though, is realizing that one man’s trash is another’s treasure.  I love Doctor Who and Disney.  So when I saw an image of a Dalek merged with Figment, I fell in love.  Someone without a passion for either of those, though, might look upon that image as a waste of bandwidth.  Meanwhile, I’m not a fan of Game of Thrones and so wouldn’t appreciate a parody video of it while a fan might find it the funniest thing he’s seen in months.

Baby. Bathwater. Bye-Bye.

No technology is without its risks.  Television can be used to educate (Sesame Street) or to play mindless fluff like some reality shows.  Cars can be used to speed travel or to run someone over.  A hammer can build a building or bash in a skull.  Electricity can light our way or fry us to a crisp.  Nuclear power can generate electricity or blow us up. 

Technology isn’t evil by itself.  It is only a tool.  People make those tools do some wonderful things and some horrible things.  If we banned technology every time someone used it for the wrong purposes, we’d be back to living in caves.  (No fire, though.  You might burn someone with it so it’s banned.)  Ditching the Internet just because a few malcontents and thieves misuse the power it grants doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Where The Bias Lies

So why would Mr. Samuelson want to turn off the Internet?  Perhaps the answer lies in where he works: The Washington Post.  The Post, along with many other newspapers, used to be THE source of up to date information about national and world events.  If you wanted to see who won the Presidential race or what was going on in other countries, you’d pick up the newspaper and read.  All the news would be printed there for you – or at least all the news the editors deemed fit enough.

With the advent of cable news, newspapers began a decline.  After all, they printed once a day.  Maybe twice if they ran an "evening edition."  Cable news programs, however, could update stories on a minute by minute basis.  If a big, important court case was nearing a verdict, you could read about it in the paper the next day (if they were able to stop the presses) or you could tune in and watch it happen live.

Once the Internet became popular, though, the floodgates were opened.  Suddenly, news could be relayed instantaneously about any topic.  You didn’t need to worry about the fact that CNN or the Times didn’t cover elections in Peru.  You could look at a few Peruvian websites to see how things were going.  Once social media took off, information would even spread from person to person.  Yes, this means that rumors can spread fast as well, but that’s a risk with the old methods as well.

With the news speed turned up to Ludicrous, newspapers just couldn’t keep up.  Some have managed to slow their descent, but many have gone out of business or are headed that way.  Were the Internet to go away tomorrow, newspapers (and columnists like Mr. Samuelson) would benefit greatly.

Sorry, Mr. Samuelson, but the Internet isn’t going away.  Yes, there are plenty of risks, but there are way more rewards.  And while I might need to dodge a hacker or stalker or troll here and there, I wouldn’t trade being online for all of the printed encyclopedias and microfiche in the world!

Reconsidering Vine

vine_questionTwo weeks ago, I posted about how I didn’t really see a use for Vine.  I couldn’t see why one would need to post short videos when a photo or an animated GIF would do.  Of course, on Sunday, we went to the Museum of Innovation and Science (MiSci) in Schenectady to see their new Notion of Motion exhibit.  I quickly realized that photos wouldn’t do many of the exhibits justice.  What I needed was a video.  Not a long video, but just a short one.  I found myself posting Vine after Vine.

This is where the blog post diverges from my intended course.  I meant to share some of the Vines that I posted and write about how I now found the service very useful.  Unfortunately, my first step in posting the Vines ran into a snag.  Although I had set each Vine to post to Twitter, none of them did.

No problem, I thought.  I’ll just go to the Vine videos and share them out either to Twitter or another service.  That will give me a link.  However, Vine videos apparently can’t be shared out except at the moment they are posted.  No, you can’t find a great Vine video and tweet about it.  Nor can you post a link to Facebook or another service.  You can’t even e-mail someone to point them to the Vine.

Furthermore, since Vine doesn’t give you a public profile page (like this link to my Instagram profile page), I couldn’t go there to find all of my Vines.  Without direct links to the Vines, I couldn’t embed them here or link to them at all.  They remained locked on my cell phone screen.

(Note: I was able to get a link to my profile page, but it’s in a "vine://" format that only works within the Vine app.  Useless for sharing with someone’s web browser.)

Perhaps you could find them if you searched for "TechyDad" on Vine.  The only problem with this is that Vine doesn’t seem to have a search function.  (At least not on the Android version.  Someone on the iPhone version will have to let me know if Vine has a general search function there.)  You can see "Editor’s Picks", "Popular Now", and some trending hashtags, but you can’t seek out content on your own.  I can’t, for example, see who has posted Vines with a #DoctorWho hashtag.  I might be interested in users posting this, but unless that hashtag trends, it’ll be hidden from me.

These are basic functions that are missing.  Vine almost had me, but unless they get these quickly, I’ll be lost as a user again.

It’s worthwhile to note another service that almost lost me due to basic lack of usefulness: Instagram.  Way back when, you needed a third party service to link to a Profile page for Instagram.  Thankfully, Instagram saw the light and now has a web presence that I can refer people to.  Vine should doubly pay attention because rumor has it that Instagram is working on a Vine-like video service.  If I can post a video or a photo from the same service, one that gives me a web-accessible profile link, then I’d be likely to stick with that service.

Better get moving quick, Vine.  You’ve made an interesting service, but there are glaring holes.  If you don’t fill them, someone else will pass you by and you’ll be regulated to the dustbin of Internet history.

Apocalypse Meow and a WordPress Hack Warning

DTRave_Cartoon_Computer_and_Desktop_smallWordPress is the biggest content management system around,  The good thing about this is that there is a wide array of themes and plugins that various people have developed.  The downside is that it makes WordPress a giant target for hackers.  Security is paramount if you are going power a website with WordPress.

Currently, WordPress websites are under attack.  A network of 90,000 compromised sites are performing brute force attacks to try to gain access to WordPress websites.  (To those who don’t know, brute force attacks attempt to learn your password by trying many common passwords in a rapid manner.  The more power behind the brute force attack and the shorted the span of time that it would take to guess your password and get in.)  If your site is compromised, it will be added to the network and used to hack other sites.  In other words, as the brute force succeeds, it becomes stronger and more capable to add other sites.

How can you prevent this?  Over at TypeAParent, I shared some WordPress plugins to help prevent spam and strengthen security.  One plugin in particular would be helpful with this attack: Apocalypse Meow.

The first thing that Apocalypse Meow can do to protect you is remove the "generator" tag that WordPress adds to the website.  This tag doesn’t display, but notes that WordPress created the website and even the version number that you are running.  This might not be something you see, but to a hacker it is a flashing neon sign telling them just how to attempt to hack your website.

The second thing that Apocalypse Meow can do is rename your administrative account.  By default, WordPress suggests the name "admin" for your admin username.  Most people don’t change this and so millions of sites are administered by "admin."  Hackers need just guess the password (not a hard proposition in many cases) and they have full control of the site.

Last week, there were over 7,000 login attempts made on and  That is about 2 attempts every 3 minutes.  Of those attacks, 98.8% were trying to log in as "admin."

As a side note: These stats were recorded by Apocalypse Meow,  It records all successful and failed login attempts.  If one user tries and fails too many times (user defined, but starts at 5), then you are locked out of logging in for awhile.  Usually, this thwarts brute force attacks, but in this case the attackers wisely assault sites from many different compromised WordPress installations.

Still, why not make things more difficult for the hackers?  They are mainly looking for "admin", so rename the Admin account to something else.  Make sure it is something you can remember, but nothing obvious like "admin1" or "administrator".  Apocalypse Meow can help here too.  It provides an easy method for renaming the admin account.

In a matter of seconds, you can thwart 98,8% of attacks, keep your site safe, and help make sure that your website doesn’t unwittingly get conscripted in the hacker’s brute force army.

NOTE: The computer image above is by DTRave and is available from

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