This Lousy TwitshirtFriday, April 17, 2009
Update: Looks like Twitshirt is changing their policy. Great to see a company respond so quickly to the community.
So, yeah, Twitshirt. I want to be clear that my objection is not for me personally. Do whatever you want with my words — once I’ve said them, I’m done with them. In fact, once they switch from the password anti-pattern to oAuth I’ll likely sign up and dutifully wait the 20 years it will take for me to earn enough to get a check. But that’s me, and you should never assume you can use someone else’s work without permission.
Because that’s really the problem here: permission. While royalties and opt-out forms are improvements over past attempts to sell tweets on shirts, it’s still not right. That’s not how copyright works. I can’t stand on a street corner and sell copies of Wall-E with a simple disclaimer that I’ll stop if I’m asked to. And Disney’s certainly not going to be interested in my offer of a 2.5% royalty.
It’s made worse by the fact that Airbag Industries, the company behind Twitshirt, is one I really admire. I expect better than this from them. My guess is they didn’t think it through. If they had, they would’ve seen that opt-out is wrong. They also might have realized all the other problems they were setting themselves up for.
So you wanna sell Tweet Shirts
This is the first problem that occurred to me. It’s also the first opportunity that occurred to me: What’s stopping me from retweeting everything that @hotdogsladies (who is opting-out) posts and making a killing on royalties? As far as I can tell, only morals.
Now, how ‘bout we print this shirt:
Think anybody will have a problem with that? Or maybe something like this:
Our little tweetshop has been in business five minutes and we’ve already committed copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and libel. Feels like a Monday, doesn’t it?
It’s a good idea. A really good idea. But from a practical standpoint, it just doesn’t work. I can only think of two ways to do it right: Create a CafePress style site, where individual Twitterers set up their own shops and you take a cut. Or, find individual tweets you like, negotiate a price with the writers, and sell limited runs of the shirts. Offering any tweet is so tempting, but it’s a world of hurt.
I hope Airbag realizes they’ve made a mistake and, at the very least, switch from opt-out to opt-in. It matters because words matter, regardless of whether you can sell them on a t-shirt.