The fallout over whether or not Congressman Anthony Weiner did or did not tweet a photo of his personal "member of Congress" (Weiner says his Twitter account was hacked; follow the flap on Twitter at #weinergate) could spell the end for one social media brand.
"Just had the FBI show up at my apartment, my first thought was: "She said she was 18"...turns out they weren't here for that" tweeted Noah Everett, the founder of Twitpic, this afternoon as the scandal was escalating. He may have been was half-joking but the challenges facing his social media startup are deadly serious.
(Editor's note: Everett was indeed joking about the 18-year-old, as we surmised, and confirmed to us — see below — that he did receive a visit from the FBI. he also corrected us that the lewd picture tweeted from Weiner's Twitter account was hosted on yfrog, not Twitpic, for which we apologize. NPR's headline got it wrong, and so did we.)
Twitpic, the service that piggybacks on Twitter allowing users to link photos to tweets, is already reeling from bad publicity. After the brand announced a licensing deal with WENN.com which would allow the celebrity gossip service to license its images, several celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres said they would abandon the service.
Everett confirmed to us that Twitpic's terms of service are being revised, as promised, and a blog post will be going up to address misconceptions about the WENN deal — a move that will be crucial to regaining its users' trust just as Twitter is launching its own photo-sharing service.
It was the language in Twitpic's new terms and conditions that (rightfully) upset its users:
“By uploading your photos to Twitpic you give Twitpic permission to use or distribute your photos on Twitpic.com or affiliated sites... To publish another Twitpic user’s content for any commercial purpose or for distribution beyond the acceptable Twitter "retweet" which links back to the original user’s content page on Twitpic, whether online, in print publication, television, or any other format, you are required to obtain permission from Twitpic in advance of said usage and attribute credit to Twitpic as the source where you have obtained the content.”
As The Register points out: "A million sharp-eyed bush lawyers note that this means if someone wants to re-use something from Twitpic in, for example, a newspaper, they need to ask Twitpic, but not the original poster." Twitpic has also been challenged by high-profile pieces such as ZDNet's "Why I Abandoned Twitpic for Photo Sharing" and the New York Times' "If Twitpic Deal Troubles You, Here Are Some Options."
As mentioned above, Everett contacted us by email this afternoon to set the record straight:
Yes the FBI did come to my apartment, the "She said she was 18" part was a joke though.
Twitter never communicated to us they were launching a photo sharing feature. Communication between Twitter and it's developers has not been clear. We've had Twitter's best interest in mind since building and running Twitpic and we would have hoped for the same from Twitter, at least in the from of better communication.
Regarding the bad press we received about selling users photos, I will be posting a blog post soon about this. Because of NDAs in place I was very limited on what I could say.
What I can is that our intentions with this were good from the beginning, we are not taking any money from that deal. Our goal with that was to use our partners resources to help us combat popular user's photo being misused and taken without permission. At Twitpic we are a very small team and we don't have the man power to do so. Unfortunately the media spun this deal as us trying to make money off our users photos and this was not our intention. I can say now that in hindsight because of the perception of this partnership it was the wrong way to go about it and we will not be renewing our partnership contract after the initial term. Our users trust is one of the most important things to us and we would be stupid to do anything to harm that.
Other recent negative PR for Twitpic is the story of the woman who Twitpic tweeted the shuttle launch from her flight window. After numerous promises from news organizations that she would be credited, her photo was used without any attribution, sending the message that once you Twitpic something, you no longer have any control or authorship of it.
It's not the kind of PR a social media brand wants or needs, especially when it's facing a user revolt and competition from the service on which it makes a living, even though a Twitter spokesperson told Mashable today that the deal with Photobucket doesn't mean the site will stop supporting Twitpic, yfrog, Twitgoo or other third-party photo-sharing services that rely on its API.
For more on Twitter's new photo-sharing launch (powered by Photobucket), read the blog post by cofounder Jack Dorsey and watch the video below: