When It’s Yours Until It’s Not

Jeremy Vaught was an early renter of the Twitter theater. In 2007, he created the @music handle. Over the next 16 years, he grew it to over half a million followers. He didn’t monetize his following a lot. He just enjoyed sharing music. Until, on a random Friday in August, Twitter took it away.

“You can have @musicmusic, @musiclover, or @music123,” they said. “But not @music.” That’s the problem with renting. It might feel like ownership for 20 years, but when the landlord wants her land back, the sudden realization that it never was will sting.

Moving house sucks, but moving brand might be impossible. When your livelihood is tied to intellectual property, losing some of that property could be catastrophic. Vaught was angry, but he’ll live. “16 years is a long time to invest in something and then just have it ripped out from underneath you,” he said.

But what about other people who worked hard or even paid top dollar for an @-handle that pops? Can the operators of @art, @books, and @business say the same? That last one is Bloomberg, by the way. Not sure how happy they’d be to get a call from their landlord. Or, you know, an email in the style of a customer support ticket. Is that still “just business?”

It’s not only Twitter, by the way. Instagram accounts get suspended all the time. Right now, the land grab on Threads is in full swing — but will the swinging be worth it? When it’s yours until it’s not, it’s never yours in the first place. “What we do not own, we do not have sovereignty over,” Paul Jarvis once wrote. “Our freedoms are held hostage by those who we rent or borrow from.”

It’s near-impossible to get through life without renting, but that doesn’t mean we should accept renting by default. Technically, everything can be taken away. Realistically, many things won’t once you make the effort to own them. Whether it’s your home, your patent, or the name of your brand: Pick yourself, and don’t let just anyone climb your hill.