TweetCC: Creative Commons for Twitter


A new Twitter-based service, “soft boiled launched” yesterday, aims to let users put tweets under Creative Commons licenses. The service, TweetCC, aims to bridge the gap between CC licenses, intended for Web pages and downloadable files, and the 140-character world of Twitter.

The service brings with it a slick and easy-to-use interface as well as some serious questions about how copyright and CC applies to Twitter. However, for those who are adamant about licensing everything they create under one copyleft license, the service can provide a way to extend your terms to your Twitter feed.

The questions that remain are whether the service is worthwhile and, if it is, who is it for?

The Basics

TweetCC is a Twitter-based service but not one that requires your password, nor even your username. If you wish to register your tweets under as CC license, all you have to do is log into Twitter, visit the TweetCC license selection page and click the “Use License” link next to the license you want to use.

You will then be directed to Twitter, where TweetCC will paste the content of a specially-formatted tweet into your message box. You then submit the message, as usual, and it will send the reply to the @tweetcc account with the CC license you have chosen, which will be picked up and recorded by their bot in about thirty minutes.

Once the bot has recorded your tweet, you’ll be added to the growing list of users that have registered their Twitter accounts with the service, which numbers just shy of 800 as of this writing. Those that are interested in using your tweets will then be able to visit the TweetCC site and lookup your username, read your license and act accordingly.

Those interested in simply looking through the database of CC-licensed tweets can also simply go through the list, picking usernames to pull from.

Problems in Twitterland

Though the service is certainly great in terms of its simplicity and usefulness, there are several reasons for concern.

  1. Copyrightability: As has been discussed many times before on this site and elsewhere, most tweets don’t rise to the threshold of copyrightability. There simply isn’t enough requisite creativity in most tweets, making the issue of CC licensing for most tweets moot.
  2. CC Validity: The service doesn’t actually affix the CC license to the work itself, but rather, stores an @reply that expresses the wish to license the work accordingly. There’s also little indication as to how one would complete a CC license via Twitter, as one has to reference the original license when using the work.
  3. Opt Out: Currently, once you register for the service, there is no clear way to opt out. Though you can remove a CC license from your site, you can’t remove it from TweetCC at this time. You can, however, change your license terms as TweetCC will record multiple licenses, showing clearly which one is the most recent.

I spoke with Andy Clarke and Brian Suda, the creators of TweetCC, about these issues. On the subject of copyrightability, Suda had this to say:

While I and probably most people generally agree with you, there are probably several that do not…. It could be possible to use reuse everyone’s tweets and risk a court battle to fight it out with those who disagree with your (and my) moot copyrightability thoughts – or spend a few evenings, knock-up and be sure that any and everything you are using for a commercial purpose is explicitly allowed. We took the latter stance because it was easy, and the right thing to do.

Regarding the issue of fulfilling the CC license, Suda says that it is outside the scope of the project and “between the two customers not the service.”

Finally, according to them, it is possible to opt out of the service by sending a tweet to @tweetcc indicating that you do not wish your tweets to be used. According to them, some have already done exactly that.

In short, though the service isn’t likely necessary for the vast majority of tweets, for those that wish to ensure that all of their content is under the same license or that they are completely within the bounds of the law when using a tweet, TweetCC can be useful.

If the early response is any indication, it is clear that Suda and Clarke have created something that many people were very eager for.


I’ve gone ahead and licensed my tweets under the same terms that this site is under, to ensure consistency. Though the service likely only has limited usefulness, due to the nature of copyright, and has many challenges to its application, it is currently the only thing going in this field. As such, as the saying goes, it is better than nothing.

However, it will be nice to see how this system grows. Some initial thoughts include making a database of all the registered users by the license they choose, making it easier to find tweets by license, and also an index of the tweets by how they are licensed. The idea being to make it easier for those that seek to reuse CC-licenses tweets to do so correctly.

All in all, it is a fascinating idea and one that, though likely superfluous due to the nature of Twitter, will without a doubt bring a lot of comfort and certainty to what is still a very new medium. Though the most effective and simplest solution would still be to see Twitter itself integrate CC licensing into its service, since that doesn’t seem to be likely at this time, this is a good user-generated attempt to solve the problem.

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