Media and Mediums


This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in February of 2009.

Those of us who actively create internet content — which includes many nonprofits, at this point – were fairly blindsided by a small, subsequently revoked change in Facebook’s terms of service this month. The earlier terms allowed Facebook to use any content that a user publishes to the site in a variety of ways, as long as the user kept the content on the site. The change extended Facebook’s rights to use beyond it’s time on their system. They could keep using it after the user removed it, and they could even keep using it after the user cancelled their account. Facebook’s defense of this action, in a blog post by Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, was that the intention was to insure that people whom you shared information with, such as emails, links or notes, didn’t lose access to that information if/when you removed it. But, since the policy didn’t isolate that use example from the broader uses, such as Facebook advertising their services with your content, or providing it to third parties, the reassurance left a lot of us cold. A use policy on a social networking site should establish, clearly, what will and won’t happen with the content that you post to it, not leave it open ended to this extreme.

This incident prompted a fascinating post by Dr. Amanda French, comparing the license agreements of a variety of popular social networks. This is an important read, but the upshot is: Google services and MySpace have pretty clear terms; Facebook and LinkedIn claim a broad range of rights to content that we publish on their systems.

To me this is a bit like the separation of church and state. I expect that a social networking site, like an ISP, is a medium that I can use to communicate and share things, including things that i create and hold copyright to; not a magazine that licenses and retains ownership of works that I submit. If that’s not the case, then I want to know that and be very careful about what I’m putting up there. In my case, I’m trying to protect my works and personal reputation; a nonprofit should be just as concerned about how a business like Facebook might portray them as they repurpose their content.

There is media — content, that we create — and there are mediums, and in the print world the issues of content ownership are very clearly outlined in contracts. Facebook and their ilk should be applying the same standards, maybe even more so, since they are publishers on a much more massive scale than, say Ms. Magazine or Popular Mechanics.

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