In a stoush over content rights that is reminiscent of an earlier controversy concerning Facebook, Twitpic recently copped unwanted attention for changing its terms and conditions in such a way as to give it broad-ranging rights over content submitted by users.
Twitpic, a social media site that allows users to post photo and video content to Twitter, changed its terms and conditions on 10 May this year to enable it to distribute user photos to third parties without seeking prior permission . The updated terms grant Twitpic permission to use, reproduce and distribute content “royalty-free”, including for the purposes of redistributing the service through any media channels. 
A number of users complained and deleted their accounts before founder Noah Everett made a public apology and sought to explain the reasoning behind the changes: “To clarify our ToS regarding ownership, you the user retain all copyrights to your photos and videos, it’s your content. Our terms state by uploading content to Twitpic you allow us to distribute that content on twitpic.com and our affiliated partners. This is standard among most user-generated content sites (including Twitter). If you delete a photo or video from Twitpic, that content is no longer viewable.”  Everett added that in the past, newsworthy content had been taken from Twitpic by other organisations without permission, so Twitpic decided to partner with certain organisations to help distribute content in a fairer way. 
But although Everett states that a picture is no longer viewable if you delete it, the terms and conditions actually say that the licence will “terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you remove or delete your media” and that “any sub-license by Twitpic to use, reproduce or distribute the Content prior to such termination may be perpetual and irrevocable”. 
Back in 2009 Facebook dealt with similar public outrage when it changed it terms to say that when you deleted an account, any rights previously taken did not terminate. As in the case of Twitpic, Mark Zuckerberg subsequently posted an explanation of the changes and why he believed such changes were necessary. He also claimed that: “In reality, we wouldn't share your information in a way you wouldn't want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work.” 
Social media sites require a certain level of rights from users to operate their services legally. The easiest way to manage risk from a website’s perspective is to take as many rights as possible: the more rights, the less risk there will be liability in the future. However, as the Facebook, Twitpic and other backlashes demonstrate, this is not necessarily the best approach in terms of maintaining good relationships with the user community. If the real intention behind taking rights is simply to make sure a site is covered from potential liability, or is truly to protect user interests, then it is best to be upfront and honest with users before implementing such policies, and only to take as many rights as is truly necessary.
Whether users should be so trusting about the use of their content is another question. Ultimately, an organisation could potentially argue it needs broad-ranging rights for a certain purpose and then later change its mind. If, for example, a particular site was sold off to another entity, a new owner may not choose to exercise the same policy.
[1,4] “Twitpic angers users over copyright grab”. BBC News, 12 May 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-13372982
 Daily Mail Reporter. “Anger as Twitpic changes its terms so it can sell YOUR photos to whoever it wants”. Mail Online, 12 May 2011.
[3, 4] Noah Everett. “Your Content, Your Copyrights”. Twitpic Blog, 10 May 2011. http://blog.twitpic.com/2011/05/your-content-your-copyrights/
 Twitpic Terms of Service.
 Mark Zuckerberg. “On Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information”. The Facebook Blog, 17 February 2009.