By Vlatko Juric-Kokic
Round and round and round
Last year, Facebook did something similar in its terms of service. It didn't "propose," though—it changed the terms of service to allow it to do absolutely whatever it want with the content (I'm starting to hate that word) that Facebook users uploaded to Facebook servers, forever. Chris Walters from The Consumerist noticed the changes, wrote about them on the blog, and the final result was that Facebook backed off.
As time goes by
A year has passed. Facebook has apparently learned something. This time it is proposing new changes to its terms of service. There is no evil stuff in there. No allowing Facebook to use your photos, videos and whatnot for commercial purposes. But it has apparently not learned enough. In the innocuous wording of the section about sharing your content and information, there is still one little word: use.
For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos ("IP content"), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook ("IP License"). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
Secondly, take some very real cases into account. For example, I upload my snapshots to Facebook and send the link around. It's easier than uploading them to my site and it's easier to show them around. Everybody can see them. And I mean everybody. There are no restrictions to who can see the photos. Therefore, no privacy. Therefore, the license applies. Riiight.
Even more dubious is the last sentence of the quoted text. At the moment, when you upload photos, you have to check a box confirming you're the owner and you have the right..., et cetera and so forth. If I took a portrait of my friend and uploaded it to their wall so they can use it as a profile photo, I shared it with them. If I delete my account later, the photo remains among my friend's profile photos. Let's say I didn't ask, nor did my friend think, about deleting the photo. According to the proposal, Facebook retains the license. But since the author has to check the box, and my friend was not the author, Facebook retaining the use is in direct conflict with Facebook's own policies. How about that?
An awful, awful thought occured to me. By allowing itself the use of photos by authors who are no longer on Facebook, is Facebook somehow creating orphan works? Nah, it's certainly just a dark figment of my imagination. Anyway, dear Facebook, Brad Templeton wrote down Ten Big Myths about Copyright so many years ago. Please do read them. The article does talk about writings and outmoded social networks like the Usenet, but the same things apply to photographs and everything else on the web as well as on the current social networking sites. It all boils down to one principle: you can't use a work without explicit permission from its author.
If the author puts her work on a site, the site can store it and display it, but the same site cannot give the work to other sites, organizations, or individuals. Again, you need explicit permission, one stating the purpose and the way of sharing. Even less can the site "use" the work, with everything such a broad verb can imply—from creating a banner or illustration for the site to licensing or selling the work to others to do the same. Members of social networking sites are not a source of free content for the sites to exploit.
Enough already. We don't want to live in a dystopian science fiction novel.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by latent_image: "I eagerly await the day a major court decision knocks the stuffing out of one of the big internet companies on a copyright issue. Even though I formally opted out of Google Books, they grabbed one of my books and posted 20% of it online, including approximately 20 full-page photos. As of this weekend, my book has finally been removed, but let's just say that Google Books was less than cooperative about it, considering that my first request for removal was last October and that it took repeated efforts on my part to get them to comply.
"Google Books is a massive grab of copyrighted material. Now that the courts have forced them into an agreement with authors and publishers groups, Google Books tries to put a nice face on it. But they started out scanning and posting book pages without the slightest regard for copyright. (Google Books make a 'fair use' argument, but 20% of a book? I don't think so.) Copyright grabs are not okay with me...ever."