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See today’s article on Slate : “Wait, Who Says My Tweets Belong to Google or the Library of Congress?” by Heidi Moore. Moore seems rather upset that Google is creating a searchable archive of all Tweets. And, in case you missed it, the Library of Congress announced yesterday:

Your 140 characters or less will now be housed in the Library of Congress.

That’s right. Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.

Announcement link here.

Moore is not outraged over privacy, she’s outraged over the ownership implications of this move:

Think for a second, not of a zillion little 140-character bursts of history. Think of the “producers” of that history, and of the slippery slope Google and the Library of Congress are creating for personal rights over any work product. The precedent here might be: If it’s on the Internet, we (Google) own it.

She makes a few pointed jabs along this line and is obviously seething about the issue, calling for Twitter to “inform its users clearly what they were getting into.”

The problem for Moore is that they did.

Everyone who signs up to use Twitter agrees to Twitter’s Terms of Service, which states, in plain English (emphasis added):

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

So, while yes, Heidi, you own your Tweets, you did, however, tell Twitter they could do whatever they want to with them with out further consulting or compensating you.

If that keeps you up at night, see Section 11 of Google’s Terms of Service.

Generally speaking, these are the prices we pay for free services. (See Slate write Chris Thompson.) Also, please, please read the Terms of Service of the service you plan to gripe about on national fora before griping (because I’m sure you didn’t before using the service).

Also, as another Slate writer (Chadwick Matlin) points out,

Heidi, when you write a book—and, come to think of it, you should write a book!—does it end up in the Library of Congress? Yes. Is it still your work when it goes in there? Yes. We’re not talking about Google (GOOG) or the LoC “owning” your intellectual property. We’re talking about archiving it.

Much of this conversation – the outrage, the confusion – stems from our misunderstandings and disagreements about the role born-digital content plays in our society. In this case, Twitter is the publisher, Heidi – and ever other Twitter user – is a writer published by them. When examined from this angle, the case becomes quite clear. The publisher is exercising their distribution rights, the Library of Congress is exercising their rights as a library to collection published works, and Google is exercising its right to form a partnership with a publisher.

As creators of born-digital content, this electronic ephemera and grey literature, users must be aware of these concepts and Terms of Service clauses so that they have at least a partial understanding of their rights and roles as content creators.