Buhlshit (n.) - A spurious legal threat concerning the reproduction of tweets

A "smashmouth investigative journalist", Teri Buhl, claims that no-one may publish her tweets. Faced with widespread ridicule and criticism, she's doubled down, going as far as to threaten lawsuits against bloggers who wrote about her.

The fuss started last week, when Buhl threatened to sue a lawyer who quoted a tweet of hers. After he sought advice online, constitutional lawyer Mark Randazza pointed out that you can't say something in public and subsequently claim that it's off the record.

Moreover, Twitter's terms of service allow for republication, and the service even offers embedding options to make it easy to do so. Though Buhl has now made her Twitter account private, disabling that service for her own tweets, a copyright claim is unlikely to get far in court. Tweets are so short that their copyrightability is suspect to begin with, say experts, and a "fair use" defense would likely prevail in any case.

When this was pointed out at Techdirt, however, she ultimately threatened to sue the site's operators. When Jim Romenesko published her side of the story, verbatim, at her request, she threatened to sue him over his publication of her Twitter avatar.

The final, bizarre twist: Buhl herself faced the prospect of legal sanctions after a teenager's diary entries were published online without permission. Buhl was accused of publishing the personal journal of an ex-boyfriend's daughter online, then charged with second-degree harassment and other misdemeanors, according to the New Canaan Patch.

Techdirt's Tim Cushing has a question:

It's apparently OK to publicly post information from a minor's personal journal, but not OK to post a public Teri Buhl tweet anywhere else on the internet.

And Gizmodo's Mario Aguilar sums up the whole sorry falseness of it all:

Teri Buhl (Teri-Buhl, get it?) needs a lesson on the law and common decency and the Internet.


  1. Why do people insistently claim to have copyright over things they write in public spaces not owned (or even rented) by them?  It’s like they’re deliberately being obtuse.

    1. Thanks, you just made this pop into my mind: 
      Andy Dufresne: How can you be so obtuse?
      Warden Samuel Norton: What? What did you call me?
      Andy Dufresne: Obtuse. Is it deliberate? 

    2. Why do people insistently claim that publishing something online voids copyright, when all it does is implicitly expand the scope of fair use for readers?  It’s like they don’t understand how copyright works.

      Rob could have posted this story on a free wordpress.com blog, on a facebook or google+ page, and the ownership of copyright would still be his.  The terms of service of those sites differ with respect to the license you grant them to the material you post, but you retain the copyright (if any).

      The same goes with Twitter – from their terms of service:
      what’s yours is yours – you own your Content

      If she doesn’t hold copyright in her tweets, it’s not because Twitter or someone else does, it’s because tweets are not sufficiently original, substantive works to be deserving of copyright protection.

      Try reading this.  http://www.canyoucopyrightatweet.com/

      1. That was my first thought when I read this. Sure, she’s an idiot, but what if I wrote a novel in tweet form? Would you then have the right to publish that novel without paying me for it? It’s an interesting question how many words we have to write before it’s not just something we “said,” but something we created.

        1. what if I wrote a novel in tweet form?

          If you’ve already distributed it for free, you’re shit out of luck. Barn door, cows.

          1. What you’re saying is that if, say, Rob writes a short story and posts it on BoingBoing, then HuffingtonPost can come along and re-publish the whole thing. Sorry, my friend. That’s simply not the case. My question would be where the line gets drawn. Can something as short as 140 characters be copyrighted, and under what sort of rules. Just ask Lou Beach, who does wonderful “short stories” in 420 characters or less. He later compiled them into a book (which I reviewed). http://www.420characters.net 

          2. Why would you publish something to Twitter if you ever wanted to claim copyright on it later? That sounds like a spectacularly bad strategy, and anyone who tries it and expects to gain something is in for a big disappointment.

          3. And if I took that hypothetical tweeted novel, published all the tweets together in a book by cropping screen caps thereby leaving in the attribution, wrote a foreword and afterword describing my novelty in reading the tweeted novel and discussing the event of its occurrence?

            Yeah that’s mine, because whats theirs stayed theirs.

        2. I agree – when I said “If she doesn’t hold copyright in her tweets (etc.)” I wasn’t asserting that she doesn’t – just that if that is so, the reason is not that Twitter does.

      2. I’m not saying it voids copyright, but that tweets in a fully public forum are too small to bother protecting. 

        That article you mention sums it up with this:  “Copyright and Tweets is really about practicality. Many people believe they own everything they post online, be it Tweets, Facebook status, or whatever. The truth is that most people are most likely incorrect in their assumption. I guess the bigger question is what would you do even if you did own a Tweet?”

        She can own it, but trying to prevent anyone else from quoting her when the medium is short enough to skirt under fair use is going to make it pretty difficult.  Especially if she’s not actually registering all of her tweets.

        She can own it, but she can’t stop people from quoting her, especially if they attribute it to her.

        If I go to a meeting in Times Square with a sign with a clever quip and someone takes a photo, do I own the statement?  Can I prevent them from showing me holding my sign?  Yep, I own it.  No, I can’t stop them.  I’m in a public place doing a public thing.  Now that she’s privatized her twitter she’ll have a better chance of protecting her information, but prior to that it’s a public forum.

  2. We need some sort of icon for this sort of nonsense; like a suit-wearing bandito with two holstered lawyers or something.

    1. The singer’s ears just perked up while sing “All Star” at whatever fair or amusement park their currently playing it at.

  3. God I looked at her blog and the run on sentences and lack of commas and typos and grammar mistakes are really horrible making it almost as unreadable as this comment if not more so.

    1. This from the front page of her blog….

      “I’m working on trade-marking “Smouthmash Journalism” !”
      Hmmm. Oh noes! Now I’m going to get sued!

      Her blog reminds me of the time Homer Simpson spent a brief period as an internet gossip columnist/reporter. What was his pen-name?

        1. That’s it! I guess the point was that it was Homer that came up with it. The naming of Martin Prince’s “Honor Roller” soapbox car still makes me laugh. 

  4. How does someone like this get a public forum in the first place? She can’t write. She’s terrible at writing. Yet someone paid her as a “journalist” at one time. I get that anybody can theoretically throw up a blog (pun intended in this case), but who actually reads any of these people? 

    Seriously, BoingBoing crew. “Directory of wonderful things” hasn’t really been true lately. You’re killing my faith humanity bit by bit every day. From witch burnings to vicious IP trolls to every other parasite that’s gotten attention here lately. How about a one month moratorium on outrage? The internet is full of outrage. We won’t run out. We haven’t hit peak outrage yet. Just try it.

    1. Faith is for suckers and BB supplies you with regular kitten and unicorn chasers despite this world being more accurately reflected without them, the unicorns anyway,

    2. “How does someone like this get a public forum in the first place?”  Well, according to her “about” page on her blog, Ms. Buhl earned her chops by reporting on the meltdown in 2008, and subsequently calling out “chops earned!” in a loud, abrasive voice.  Also, she doesn’t have a degree in journalism/english/history/good writing education.  She lives in lower Fairfield County, CT and earned an Accounting/Business degree from the University of Southern California.

      So, she got her blog by ranting about hedge fund managers, and she got her public forum via her blog and. . .I dunno?  Loud opinions?  Cleavage?  I give Matt, I just don’t know how she did it.

      1. Cleavage.  If you google image search her every time someone was dense enough to put her on TV she has the puppies on parade trying to distract them.

    3. We stopped calling ourselves A Directory of Wonderful Things years ago in favor of A Compendium of Greasy Peccadilloes.  Although I’ve been lobbying to adopt Die Antwoord’s One Big Inbred Fuckfest.

    1. Yeah, I get why people would be upset by this, but she strikes me as one of those people who plain can’t be reasoned with. Probably wants attention.

      1. You mean like after the Judge ordered her to have no contact with the minor who’s journal she is alleged to have taken and posted online and she got uppity at the Judge over it, and then cried to the media in the hallway how mean it was to stop her working on her exposé?

  5. FWIW, she definitely DOES own the copyright, but that means relatively little as all of the uses she’s threatening to sue over clearly fall into “fair use.”

    Her “publishing someone’s private journal entries without their permission” stunt? Definitely does not.

    1. I thought it meant if you read enough of her drivel you’d feel compelled to smash her in the mouth.

  6. If you flipped a coin with her it would be:  Heads I’m right, tails you’re wrong.  Stupid is as stupid does.

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