February 8, 2013

These tweets are not publishable


A statement on Teri Buhl’s Twitter profile claims that “No Tweets are Publishable.” Buhl, an investigative journalist covering finance and Wall Street, is now threatening to sue a lawyer for using that line when he asked her, publicly, what she meant.

Tech Dirt picked the story up earlier this week and posted a snapshot of the initial exchange, after which @gideonstrumpet thanked Buhl for the clarification but also noted that he was not sure how Buhl might prevent that from happening, seeing how Twitter is a public platform. Buhl countered that her tweets, regardless of the platform, belong to her, and as sole owner only she can determine who uses them and how.

Twitter’s Terms of Service states that users’ tweets are in fact their own, but that does not mean the information is not public; and why would a user tweet something publicly and then contend that nobody could quote that tweet, or retweet it, or do anything at all with it without first gaining permission? That logic cuts against the grain of Twitter itself, which is a social medium, designed for sharing information.

When Buhl threatened to sue @gideon for retweeting her, he reached out to colleagues asking for their legal opinions. One called the claim “ignorant and preposterous,” another said it was “cray cray.” This exchange prompted Buhl to threaten @gideonstrumpet’s colleagues with lawsuits as well.

Buhl seems to believe that her tweets are private property, and she is antagonizing people, threatening them with outrageous claims, based on a legal assumption that is not true: that tweets constitute source material, much like material used in journalism, and that other people on Twitter need her “on the record” permission to use or retweet the material.

Alas, it’s a frivolous internet story, one that might have slunk into the gutters if not for Mark Bennett, one of @gideonstrumpet’s colleagues, who did some investigating of his own.

From Tech Dirt:

For someone who’s so concerned with retaining strict control of her information, Buhl certainly doesn’t seem to mind throwing around other people’s information — even the contents of a teenage girl’s personal journal.

A New Canaan woman police say posted personal and sexually explicit information on Facebook about her boyfriend’s 17-year-old daughter was arraigned Tuesday in state Superior Court on charges of second-degree harassment, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with an officer.

Teri Buhl, 38, of 81 Locust Ave., appeared briefly before Judge Maureen D. Dennis with her lawyer, Christopher W. Caldwell of Norwalk…

A look at the documents that led to the warrant and arrest tells a disturbing story of Web-based strong-arming and privacy invasion from a woman who knew her victim and attempted to disguise her own identity.

New Canaan police Youth Bureau Commander Sgt. Carol Ogrinc said in an affidavit that the girl and her father, Paul Brody, came to police June 24 to report that someone using the name ‘Tasha Moore’ had posted personal notes from the girl’s journal on Facebook.

The girl said she kept the journal in her dresser drawer in her bedroom, and that she wrote the notes shown on Facebook last April. The girl said she had replied to the e-mail address provided by Moore on her Facebook page, and had told Moore to stop posting personal information about her or she would contact police.

Moore reportedly answered that she welcomed the legal action and knew the girl’s father was a corporate lawyer. Moore said she didn’t think the girl would contact police because then her father would find out about the embarrassing information from the journal, according to Ogrinc’s statement.

Following this, Buhl asked Jim Romenesko if she could respond to Tech Dirt’s article on his popular media blog. Romenesko said yes and published, alongside her Twitter profile photo, a rambling explanation from Buhl that essentially reinforces the impression that she is ignorant of copyright law and walking a thin line between right and wrong.

Read it in full here.

Yesterday, as readers responded to Buhl’s response, Romenesko posted the following:

Only in America, people …




Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.