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Mark Cuban Wants What's Said on Twitter to Stay on Twitter

Mar 30, 2009 – 6:00 PM
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Matt Watson

Matt Watson %BloggerTitle%

Mark CubanFor the purpose of this post, I'm going to reference several messages (sorry, but I hate saying "tweets") on Twitter. That's probably going to annoy Mark Cuban, but there's not much I can do about that.

Soon after the Mavericks/Nuggets game on Friday, Cuban publicly complained about the officiating. As far as the NBA is concerned, the fact that he did so on Twitter is irrelevant -- public criticism is public criticism, whether it's comments made in front of a reporter's microphone, a lengthy rant on his personal blog or anger distilled into 140 characters or less on Twitter. As such, it was hardly a surprise when the league levied a $25,000 fine.

After revealing the fine (with yet another post on Twitter, appropriately enough), Cuban posed a question on his personal blog as to whether news outlets had the right to republish his initial complaints. From Blog Maverick:
I got to thinking about this when I tweeted about an NBA game. I tweeted to the people who follow me. While I never asked that they not distribute it to other tweeters, i did not give anyone permission to republish my tweets in a commercial newspaper, magazine or website.

So when an ESPN.com or any other outlet republishes a tweet, have they violated copyright law ?

Is twittering the process of publishing in 140 characters or less, or is it a private communications to those that follow you ? Even if you dont block outsiders from seeing it ? [...] If a newspaper or website wants to publish your status update, do they need permission first
In response to that last question, I shot back a response via Twitter:
@mcuban you might have a case if your account was set to private, but it's not ...
For those not familiar, any message posted to Twitter is accessible to the world unless you manually set your account to private, in which case you can selectively grant access to specific followers. Because Cuban's account is public, you can visit his Twitter page in any web browser or subscribe to his updates using any RSS reader.

Of course, you also have the option of "following" him if you also have a Twitter account, but the point is that any public account is accessible by anyone with an internet connection, not just those signed up for the service and counted as "followers."

After seeing my response, Cuban replied,
@NBAFanHouse not true at all. Just because i want to max out audience doesnt mean you can use it.From from me isnt free to u to publish
Ignoring the bad grammar (which is not only Cuban's trademark but also a by-product of the 140-character constraint imposed by Twitter) and confusing final sentence, it's clear Cuban didn't agree. Twitter user RedsArmy saw Cuban's response and chimed in:
@mcuban I'm with @NBAFanHouse when you make a statement on Twitter and its public, it's the same as talking in public. you're being quoted
... to which Cuban replied:
@RedsArmy Since when did any tweet become public ? Its for followers/subscribers
Again, as I explained above, this is simply not true. In response to Cuban's reply to RedArmy, I chimed in:
@mcuban That's like saying anything written on a blog is only intended to be read by RSS subscribers. Obviously that's not the case.
Asynchronous conversations are hard to follow, so this may be a little confusing to digest. But what also makes this complicated is that Cuban opened two separate can of worms disguised as one: he starts by asking about copyright but follows up with questions about privacy.

If Cuban complained about the officiating in a private email that somehow landed in the hands of a reporter, he might be able to argue that his copyright and privacy have been invaded. (Or not; I'm not a lawyer, I'm just trying to make an example. But ignoring the legal/ethical ramifications, my point is that he could justifiable feel "wronged," whatever that's worth.)

Mark CubanBut announcing his complaints to the world and then complaining that the world listened? That just doesn't make sense. Whether the NBA is justified or not in their decision to fine owners, coaches and players for public comments about referees is another matter (personally, I find it draconian and think the league would be better served allowing outspoken personalities like Cuban to speak their mind), but by and large, the league is consistent about punishing those who complain in a public forum.

Getting back to the issue of copyright, yes, Cuban does own the copyright to messages posted to Twitter -- it says so in Twitter's Terms of Service:
1. We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Twitter service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours. You can remove your profile at any time by deleting your account. This will also remove any text and images you have stored in the system.

2. We encourage users to contribute their creations to the public domain or consider progressive licensing terms.
But even so, owning the copyright on something certainly doesn't prevent any news outlet from acknowledging its existence or content -- that's about as cut-and-dry as it comes in regards to arguments of "fair use." With that in mind, Cuban should probably get used to the fact that anything he says or writes in any public medium will likely be reported, especially if it's remotely controversial.

I suspect he already knows this, just as I suspect he already knew the answers to the questions he posed on his blog. When you're the most visible (and accessible) owner in professional sports, it's probably fun to play with the media and blogosphere like it's one giant Rube Goldberg machine -- an off-the-cuff comment here or there can set off a chain reaction that takes days before completing. But still, I hope this post enlightened readers as much as I'm sure it amuses Cuban.

Update: For what it's worth, I pinged Cuban to get his thoughts on the post:
@mcuban Any thoughts on this? http://bit.ly/d0Np6 Especially curious how close to the truth my final conclusion was ...
... and he responded:
@NBAFanHouse not close. I like to create discussion. makes things interesting


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