Legally Using Twitter in Broadcasting

Legally Using Twitter in Broadcasting

A very important legal opinion was just handed down in a case regarding use of Twitter images by mainstream media: basically, that posting an image to Twitter doesn’t grant the world a license to use it as they see fit.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I mean, just making something publicly available doesn’t revoke your legal claim to it…right?

Anyway, content on Twitter – like content anywhere – is subject to both US law and private licensing agreements. In this case, each user is granting Twitter rights to content posted by said user on Twitter. Twitter, in turn, can grant usage rights to whomever it sees fit.

Bottom line: if you haven’t been granted rights by either Twitter or the original author, you’re probably using the content illegally.

However, it’s pretty easy to get a license from Twitter: you just have to follow their Guidelines for Use of Tweets in Broadcast. They’re simple, written in plain English, and not at all onerous. But for some reason, many broadcasters (like the BBC) continue to screw it up – despite the fact that it basically boils down to two rules.

Here, I’ll show you.

You Must Credit Both User and Twitter

It’s called attribution – surely if you’re a broadcaster, you’ve heard of it. Whether displaying Twitter content graphically or announcing it verbally, both Twitter and the username must be included – in the graphical case, the Twitter bird logo should be used rather than the word. Here’s an example of correct usage from the Guidelines:

You Cannot Modify the Content

If the tweet included a photo, you cannot run the photo without the text, or vice versa. You cannot modify either the photo or the text. Again, an example of proper usage:


As with all copyrighted content, there can be exceptions – most notably fair use. But fair use is pretty ambiguous, and far beyond the scope of my tiny brain. More info on fair use can be found from Stanford.

That’s It!

Really, this is just the same protection that you as a broadcaster demand for your own content. Don’t be an asshole, and don’t steal from people.

It’s only fair.