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All Your Content is Belong to Facebook

February 16th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

File this under “Read the Frickin’ Terms of Service”. I’ve recently started using Facebook, and as a way to keep in touch with people that, due to scheduling or geographic distance, I don’t often get to catch up with. I am also the type of person that, more often than not, reads a TOS agreement. Facebook, unfortunately, wasn’t one of those services that I read the TOS for. I’m now regretting it. It turns out that by signing up and using their service, Facebook owns “an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content” that you post to their service. And due to a new change, this license persists even after you delete the content or the account assigned to it.

While my litany of status updates has no real commercial value – to me or Facebook – other content that I may post does. Some of my photos have real commercial value, as may my writings. Imagine this case: I publicize a limited edition print run on my Facebook page directing people to my commercial website where the print can be purchased. I’ve included a small, low-res version of the print in question in the post. By doing so, I have granted Facebook a full, royalty free, transferable license to use that work however it sees fit, including creating their own prints from that image. Not being a copyright lawyer, I can’t really answer this question, but think on this: What if Facebook were to purchase a copy of said print, scan it, and re-distribute a new version of the work. The question becomes what constitutes the image – the low-res copy posted or the work as it exists itself? By posting a preview of the work, have I just granted someone else a blank check to use my work, in whatever form, how they see fit? This is a valid question that I feel hasn’t truly been addressed in modern copyright law.

So to my friends and readers who are artists, writers, photographers, models (yes models – Facebook is also granted a full license to use your likeness) or any other sort of creative, stop posting your content on Facebook! Anything that you ever expect to use in any form of commercial endeavor should not be posted on Facebook. And since Facebook has changed their TOS, anything that you do have up or have ever had posted is already fair game.

Update: A Facebook spokesperson has come out in an attempt to clarify the TOS. Read it here. A Facebook group organized against the scope of the TOS can be found here.

Update2: Facebook has reverted to the terms as of September 28th, 2008, removing the language concerning perpetual licensing. They are taking time to re-write the terms in such a manner to encompass the terms needed to operate their services while still explicitly denying any claims to IP ownership on content posted. Updates can be found at the general Facebook blog or the Facebook Rights and Responsibilities group.

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