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Wednesday, 12 August 2009 16:47

Twitter orders app developer to cease and desist

People have got used to Apple telling iPhone app developers to get stuffed, but now Twitter is beating some third party app developers with a big legal stick.

Apple has stirred up some pretty seriously geeky controversy by blaming Hitler for an EFF iPhone app ban, deciding that South Park wallpaper and a trouserless Bill Clinton were potentially offensive, while at the same time thinking a game that you win by shaking a baby to death was fine in the App Store.

Now, it seems, that Twitter wants to get in on the act as far as telling third party application developers what is, and isn't, acceptable. Unlike the barmy Apple corps, Twitter might have a point.

Not that having a point ever made any difference to a good story, of course. So what exactly is happening in the strange case of Twitter versus My Twitter Butler?

Well, Twitter has been doing what it can of late to crack down on spam including a recent well publicised willy waving follower cull.

What's more, it claims that any software which "facilitates aggressive and automatic following to Twitter users" violates the Twitter Terms of Service. All of which seems perfectly fair if you happen to be an ordinary Twitter user.

If you are into Twitter for the marketing business, you might think differently though. Which is where My Twitter Butler, the third party application concerned, comes into play.

My Twitter Butler is a Windows XP app which allows anyone to automatically follow Twitter users based upon the keywords that they tweet. It also throws in the ability to send 'direct message broadcasts' (also known as spam in good old fashioned English) to all those followers at the same time.

If that were not bad enough, from the non-marketing user perspective, My Twitter Butler also claims to be able to make 20,000 API calls an hour from the desktop, circumventing the 100 API calls per hour per account limit.

By connecting directly to the Twitter API stream it allows users to register multiple accounts and search for 4 keywords in real time across each account, with automatic follow limits of up to 400 per keyword.

What does the developer concerned have to say in his defence? And what is the Twitter lawyer demanding he do? Find out on the next page.


The developer concerned, Dean Collins, has complained that Twitter is now suing him saying "not only are Twitter fighting battles with Russian hackers they are now fighting their own third party API developer community".

"Have they forgotten that it was people like me who saw a need and built an application using the publicly defined Twitter API to add value to the Twitter ecosystem?" he asks, adding "I have asked Twitters lawyers for a conference call" to clear up amongst other things why "they feel anyone using the twitter API to auto follow people is an illegal act".

Twitter, on the other hand, has taken a slightly different approach than this response might suggest. It has issued the cease and desist letter on the grounds of "infringement of Twitter's trademark rights".

Karen Webb, representing Twitter, writes "As you are likely aware, Twitter's extensive and widespread use of its TWITTER trademark provides Twitter with strong and defensible rights in the mark, and has caused the mark to become well-known, if not famous, in today's online marketplace".

Webb continues "In light of the importance and distinctiveness of the mark and the strength of Twitter's legal rights to its valuable intellectual property, please be advised that Twitter is determined to take whatever steps are necessary to protect its rights in the mark".

So what is Twitter demanding Collins do? How about, with immediate effect, deactivate the MyTwitterButler.com website and transfer the MyTwitterButler.com domain to Twitter for starters?

It also asks Collins to comply with Twitter's TOS and rules (including stopping his aggressive
and automatic following and offering techniques and software for others to aggressively or automatically follow) and stop all use of the My Twitter Butler name.

So far at least, no other third party Twitter application developer has popped their heads up and claimed to have been in receipt of similar cease and desist legal warnings.


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