A third party Twitter developer in New York has discovered the hard way that Twitter may now be playing tough, threatening to aggressively “take whatever steps are necessary” to protect their rights. Lawyers representing Twitter have demanded the developer deactivate his website, transfer the domain to Twitter and cease using the API or any reference to “Twitter”.
Yesterday mytwitterbutler.com owner and Twitter third party developer Dean Collins arrived home to find an email from lawyers claiming to represent Twitter, demanding he cease operating his website and hand over the domain because of his “violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service (“TOS”) and spam rules, and your infringement of Twitter’s trademark rights”.
His website is designed to help users auto-follow people when certain keywords appear in their tweets. Many in the Twitter community frown on auto-following that generates masses of spam, but Collins is vehemently denying misuse, and said he’s using the Twitter API in accordance with the rules.
“Basically they were saying we want you to hand over the domain, stop using and selling your software, and never use the API ever again,” Collins said.
“I think twitter are forgetting how they got so popular in the first place. There are 3000 applications out there all using the Twitter API, all using the rules they gave us.”
In their letter of demand, the lawyers have suggested that use of the word “Twitter” in Mr Collins’ domain will confuse users into thinking his product is affiliated with Twitter.
Twitter is concerned, however, that your use of My Twitter Butler and the related domain may cause confusion in the marketplace by suggesting that you and your site are somehow affiliated with Twitter, or are endorsed, sponsored, or approved by Twitter, which would result in an infringement of Twitter’s valuable trademark rights.
In light of the above, we must demand that you immediately:
1. deactivate the MyTwitterButler.com website;
2. transfer the MyTwitterButler.com domain to Twitter;
3. comply with Twitter’s TOS and rules, which includes stopping your aggressive and automatic following and offering techniques and software for others to aggressively or automatically follow; and
4. stop all use of the My Twitter Butler name, the TWITTER mark, or any other name, logo, or domain name that includes TWITTER or any confusingly similar term.
Twitter’s success has been built on the back of thousands of third party developers who have taken the API beyond what its founders could have ever imagined, and some in the Twitter Dev community have questioned if this is the beginning of the end for open development using the Twitter API.
Mr Collins said he attended a Twitter-hosted event for developers six months ago, where about 200 developers listened to Twitter representatives give examples of how the API could be used.
“Auto-follow was the second example they gave,” he said.
“I’m just using their publicly defined API.”
Some will argue Mr Collins has been warned, as the case is not without recent precedent. At the beginning of July, TechCrunch reported that Twitter had been getting touchy about using the word “Tweet” in applications. While it seeemed to be cleared up that “tweet” was okay, “Twitter” is still supposed to be a no-go for applications.
In a blog post, Biz Stone later said they encouraged the use of the word Tweet, but:
“If we come across a confusing or damaging project, the recourse to act responsibly to protect both users and our brand is important. Regarding the use of the word Twitter in projects, we are a bit more wary although there are some exceptions here as well.”
A quick search by Collins found dozens of third party Twitter applications that used the word Twitter in their domain or application, and he wondered if he was just one of many to receive letters from Twitter’s lawyers yesterday.
“It will either turn out that I’m just one, or it’s a big deal and 30 to 40 are being taken down tomorrow.”
If Twitter succeeds in forcing mytwitterbutler.com owner Dean Collins to deactivate his website, transfer the domain to Twitter, and stop using any reference to Twitter, the future of other hugely successfull third party Twitter applications like twittercounter, twitterfall, twitterfeed and DestroyTwitter could also be in jeopardy.
Read the letter from Twitter’s lawyers in full at mytwitterbutler.com/I’m_Being_Sued/