Stop! Don’t click “I Agree” before you read the Terms of Service

Are you a blogger? Are you an online marketer? Are you considering having a stronger online presence? Do you want to have a social network account? Are you joining a community of practice online? Then make sure you read the fine print (especially of a website/organization’s Terms of Service (ToS) and Copyright/Intellectual Property information) – ALL OF IT ! Why? Because it can bite you without your knowledge later on. [I can still remember my Contract Law professor fluttering his arms and saying that Ignorance of the Law is Not an Excuse!] When you click that I AGREE button you are expected to have known what you’ve agreed to.

From the initial discussion on a Facebook thread with Liz Strauss, I decided to investigate other network ToS’. First stop, Facebook (text in bold are for your reference).

facebook.jpgWhen you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

friendster.jpgSince the Facebook guys indicated that they got this idea from Friendster, I looked at their ToS’, and it goes like this ~
Rights in Content Posted by You. By publishing, displaying, or uploading (collectively, “Posting”) any text, links, photos, video, messages, or other data or information (collectively, “Content”) on or to the Website (including on or to your profile), you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to Friendster an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy, perform, display, and distribute such Content and to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

Similar looking eh?
flickr.jpgLet’s go further… how about a photo social network like Flickr and it went to Yahoo’s Copyright info and I quote ~
Yahoo! respects the intellectual property of others, and we ask our users to do the same. Yahoo! has no responsibility for content on other web sites that you may find or access when using Yahoo!’s products or services. Material available on or through other web sites may be protected by copyright and the intellectual property laws of the United States and/or other countries. The terms of use of those web sites, and not the Yahoo! Terms of Service, govern your use of that material.

hmmm…. do you see the difference between the first two and the one above?

Some companies have been very good at ensuring that one reads (or at least skims to the end) of a contract by forcing you to scroll all the way down before the I AGREE button lights up. Other organizations are not as forceful in their requirement.

twitter1.jpgLet’s look at something that is easy to understand and pretty straightforward – Twitter ~
Copyright (What’s Yours is Yours)
We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Twitter service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours. You can remove your profile at any time by deleting your account. This will also remove any text and images you have stored in the system.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all these services and use them frequently throughout each day. I pointed this out because of the perpetuity clause that concerns me especially when my intellectual property is not remunerated like on a social network and one just posts a blog entry link from a personal blog. If the link automatically pulls data from the blog, does that entry now becomes part of the social network’s auto-ownership clause. If the link remains just a link to a social network’s system, does it extend to the contents of that link? I’ve not seen those legal questions placed in question in high profile cases to date but it could be.

I value my original thought. I value what I produce. When someone has perpetual rights (whether exclusive or not) to my thoughts, I am commoditized.

As an individual, these are my concerns. As an organization, you may need to make sure your policies are in place to include such potential perpetuity clauses affecting your people’s communication. My questions would be: Should you have a similar clause? Which clause takes precedence if both companies have perpetuity clauses? This brings identity theft into a new layer of complexity because someone’s blog notes under a stolen name can perpetuate forever as well, how do you eradicate all the antecedent contents when sometimes you can’t even find out about them until years later? Gives a totally different meaning to rogue comments having dire consequences.

This is my opening salvo for discussion, I’d be interested in your thoughts on this matter so post them here.

myspace.jpgUpdate: A colleague requested that I post MySpace ToS here as well so here’s the relevant portion ~
Proprietary Rights in Content on MySpace.com.
MySpace.com does not claim any ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, or any other materials (collectively, “Content”) that you post to the MySpace Services. After posting your Content to the MySpace Services, you continue to retain all ownership rights in such Content, and you continue to have the right to use your Content in any way you choose. By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the MySpace Services, you hereby grant to MySpace.com a limited license to use, modify, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce, and distribute such Content solely on and through the MySpace Services.


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