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Twitter's been cracking down on stolen jokes - and it's not a new thing

If you’re losing out commercially, it will.

COMING UP WITH a good tweet is difficult, but there’s nothing worse than seeing a number of copycats take it without recognition to your work. Yet that could change.

The issue has come to light because of Olga Lexell (@runolgarun), a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, who tweeted this joke at the beginning of the month.

After a number of other accounts lifted the joke and tweeted it as their own, she filed a request with Twitter for them to be removed. This wasn’t the first time she requested a takedown, having told The Verge she had made similar requests before.

The reason this has received so much attention is because the Twitter account @Plagiarismisbad spotted it, which led to the tweet getting wider attention (if you can’t see the image clearly, click here).

Taking down tweets because of copyright isn’t a new thing by any means, this has been happening as far back as 2011, but what makes this situation unique is the content removed was text-only.

On Twitter’s support page, it says that it will respond to reports involving links, images or videos shared without permission. It doesn’t actually mention the text within the tweet itself.

Twitter will respond to reports of alleged copyright infringement, such as allegations concerning the unauthorized use of a copyrighted image as a profile photo, header photo, or background, allegations concerning the unauthorized use of a copyrighted video or image uploaded through our media hosting services, or Tweets containing links to allegedly infringing materials. Note that not all unauthorized uses of copyrighted materials are infringements.

What makes the situation less than clear-cut is the concept of intellectual property (IP), which usually refer to copyrights, patents and creations, the type of ideas that have commercial value.

That’s the important takeaway from this as it’s commercial elements, not morals, that resulted in this takedown.

The reason why this takedown worked was because Lexell argued she makes a living writing jokes and uses Twitter to test some of them out.

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If a comedian tweets a joke and sees it republished numerous times without reference – something that has happened many, many times – they have grounds to take it down. The same way a photographer could do the same thing by arguing it’s costing them business.

If an ordinary person tweets a joke and sees it copied, it’s hard to say whether they will be successful since they don’t necessarily gain anything from it commercially. Granted, they may still be successful – context plays a key role in these decisions – but we won’t know until it happens.

The other problem is enforcement. Even when you report tweets being lifted, the nature of Twitter and the internet in general means that as soon as one is taken down, numerous more pop up doing the same thing.

It’s a difficult thing to properly police and even now, there are people tweeting the joke again, both serious and as a joke (and there are even some people tweeting the takedown message as a meta-joke).

Yet since anyone can submit a request through Twitter’s web form (and more people being made aware they can report such acts), it could result in Twitter being pressurised to remove not only tweets, but accounts which owe their success to republishing other people’s material without attribution.

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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