Facebook Ties up Loose Contractual Ends and Everyone Cries Foul…Why?

Today the blogosphere is all a’tizzy about Facebook’s move to claim all rights, past and present, to user-uploaded content.  And perhaps the reaction is justified; didn’t we already deal with Facebook on the privacy front just a short while ago with the whole invasive advertising debacle?  

If you haven’t heard, Facebook updated its terms-of-service so that all user-generated content, be they photos, videos, links or annoying graffiti art, essentially belong to Facebook, not the creators.  Certainly, in theory it sounds ominous and invasive.  But at the nuts and bolts, it really isn’t in much different from the norm, whether we’re talking Facebook or any other social media or networking site.  

Aaron Brazell over at Technosailer.com concedes, “This is fundamentally not all that out of sorts from what most services do when licensing user content,” but then goes on to state that he’ll be advising others to abstain from uploading content to Facebook, perhaps only excluding links.  That sort of play-it-safe attitude might suffice, but it seems counterintuitive to the ideals and goals that many of us in the social media world share.  

The real question I think we should take time to answer before storming the castle with pitchforks and torches is this:  what does it change?  If Facebook is just now putting to paper what has been largely accepted by everyone until now, what’s all the hulabaloo for?  

Let’s say that Facebook used user content in the past without having the express rights written into the terms of service (which I’m sure has happened).  If the user in question wanted to fight it, they could take it to litigation, and they’d certainly have a case.  But I haven’t heard much from upset users bemoaning abuse of their content.  And the only reason we’re hearing anything now is because it seems like a huge privacy issue, when in fact it isn’t. 

Facebook is nailing up a loose end that could have been the source of endless grief, and one that could have been exploited by a savvy user looking to make a buck off the social networking behemoth.  Twitter user @Nazgul makes a very good point in saying, “Just wonder if wasn’t issue of ‘How do we keep from having to pull an ad just because it shows screenshot of a deleted user.'”  I would add, how do we keep from getting sued when the odd situation arises in which a user objects to having his or her content used?  Express terms in contracts save a lot of time and money.

The way I see it, if you want to use Facebook, you need to know up front that Facebook could use your content.  But I’d venture a guess that most folks aren’t reading the terms of service as it is.  It’s only the social media and internet privacy people sounding the warning siren.  

And while it’s our responsibility to make it unequivocally clear what will and won’t fly to the less-than-visionary Zuckerberg, I don’t think this is one of those battles that needs to be fought.  Furthermore, what kind of job would we be doing by discouraging people from uploading their content to Facebook?  Are we really saying, “Yes, Facebook is the biggest and most-used social network, and you should definitely participate in the interests of advancing social media and your own brand/image…but scrapbook your photos and have get-togethers in your homes to share your video content instead of uploading it.”  

We talk about clouding and cross-network integration, and how amazing it could be if we just got the support of the general public behind it.  I use my Blackberry to update my favorite social networks all at once, and  I’m not going to stop doing so simply because Facebook did what any good business would do and put pen to paper to protect itself.  And I certainly won’t be advising anyone to hole up in a bunker socially just because Facebook’s looking out for numero uno.

  • Triston makes a well reasoned argument, but he and I do differ on this issue. I find myself falling more in line with Mona: http://pixelbits.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/facebook-change-of-policy-why-you-should-care/

  • Triston makes a well reasoned argument, but he and I do differ on this issue. I find myself falling more in line with Mona: http://pixelbits.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/facebook-change-of-policy-why-you-should-care/

  • Also interesting, this comparison of various TOSs on social media sites http://amandafrench.net/2009/02/16/facebook-terms-of-service-compared/

  • Also interesting, this comparison of various TOSs on social media sites http://amandafrench.net/2009/02/16/facebook-terms-of-service-compared/

  • TJ Kirchner

    I can see where both sides of the argument are coming from. People want to be able to use facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, both locally and far away. Its the power of the social web. However, for some people, they want to be able to mantain ownership of the content they upload. Its “their” pictures, “their” profile, “their” space. However, they fail to realize that they are using someone else’s resources to post these things. And, once you post it on the web, its available for everyone to see and proliferate across the web.

    Personally, I don’t really care what Facebook uses my content for. I don’t post anything on there that is so private that I’m going to be angry and embarrassed about if I find it on someone’s blog. Maybe I’m just use to the web. But I can understand that some people do care and would be offended.

    I agree w/ you though Triston that posting it on the Terms of Use is necessary. Maybe they’ve already done stuff like this in the past but at least their upfront about it now. I don’t usually read the TOS either^^() and just rely on my friends, news feeds, etc. to tell me when I need to pay close attention to something. Probably a bad thing on my part. Meh *shrugs*

    It’d be interesting to see (though I doubt it would happen) if this becomes such a hot issue that people actually leave facebook in favor of another social website that allows them to maintain ownership of their content.

    It makes sense that when you use someone else’s web space to post something you could/should forfeit ownership of that copy. If you want to maintain ownership, post it on your own space. Yet, for some people, thats an inconvience. So I guess the question is, for the general public, when do their lose ownership of their content? Sure artists and authors set up deals with publishers to maintain ownership of their books, music, and articles on an individual basis, but what about when your talking about a blanket policy that affects the general public.

    This change in the TOS probably won’t change a thing for most people. Heck, it probably won’t even show up on their radar. But its still an issue to bring to everyone’s attention and I think it is worth the debate.

  • Facebook has clarified that they it in no way intends to ever use user content for profit…aka, no need to worry about baby videos being ransomed to the highest bidders 🙂

  • Facebook has clarified that they it in no way intends to ever use user content for profit…aka, no need to worry about baby videos being ransomed to the highest bidders 🙂

  • TJ Kirchner

    I can see where both sides of the argument are coming from. People want to be able to use facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, both locally and far away. Its the power of the social web. However, for some people, they want to be able to mantain ownership of the content they upload. Its “their” pictures, “their” profile, “their” space. However, they fail to realize that they are using someone else’s resources to post these things. And, once you post it on the web, its available for everyone to see and proliferate across the web.

    Personally, I don’t really care what Facebook uses my content for. I don’t post anything on there that is so private that I’m going to be angry and embarrassed about if I find it on someone’s blog. Maybe I’m just use to the web. But I can understand that some people do care and would be offended.

    I agree w/ you though Triston that posting it on the Terms of Use is necessary. Maybe they’ve already done stuff like this in the past but at least their upfront about it now. I don’t usually read the TOS either^^() and just rely on my friends, news feeds, etc. to tell me when I need to pay close attention to something. Probably a bad thing on my part. Meh *shrugs*

    It’d be interesting to see (though I doubt it would happen) if this becomes such a hot issue that people actually leave facebook in favor of another social website that allows them to maintain ownership of their content.

    It makes sense that when you use someone else’s web space to post something you could/should forfeit ownership of that copy. If you want to maintain ownership, post it on your own space. Yet, for some people, thats an inconvience. So I guess the question is, for the general public, when do their lose ownership of their content? Sure artists and authors set up deals with publishers to maintain ownership of their books, music, and articles on an individual basis, but what about when your talking about a blanket policy that affects the general public.

    This change in the TOS probably won’t change a thing for most people. Heck, it probably won’t even show up on their radar. But its still an issue to bring to everyone’s attention and I think it is worth the debate.

  • They gave lip service to the press in a last minute back pedal but have yet to put that missing and much needed limit to use of content back into the TOS as of yet.

  • They gave lip service to the press in a last minute back pedal but have yet to put that missing and much needed limit to use of content back into the TOS as of yet.

  • and FaceBook caves to user pressure rapidly, going back to old TOS yesterday. That was fast…

  • and FaceBook caves to user pressure rapidly, going back to old TOS yesterday. That was fast…