When social media behemoths Facebook and Twitter came onto the scene people gushed with giddiness. Finally, they found a chance to connect their life online with others. Then seeing their opportunity to connect with customers businesses soon followed suit. People signed up for these social networks like carnivores at a barbeque.
They paid little attention to those boxes they checked which said “I agree to the Terms of Service.” As a result, many individuals and businesses, especially creative agencies which develop media, have signed away their intellectual property rights to some of the largest companies in the world with little or no compensation coming their way. Here’s a look at what you’re giving up in way of intellectual property when you start uploading your photos, videos and other media to Facebook and other social media sites.
You’re Loaning Your Ownership Rights For Free
On its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities Facebook proclaims “Your privacy is very important to us.” And that may be, but so is your content. It also states by posting any content which has intellectual property rights to Facebook you give the Zuckerberg-vehicle “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use.” Not a big deal for grandma posting pics of her new grandkids but a huge deal for professional photographers trying to make money off their photos. In lawyer speak, Facebook could conceivably – if they wanted to – sell all your content to a third-party and not pay you a dime. Take the case of the Smiths (a real couple mind you).
In 2009, a happily married man from Lynchburg, Va., was on his Facebook page when a curious ad appeared, according to MSNBC.com’s Redtape Chronicles: “Hey, Peter,” it read, “Hot singles are waiting for you!” Not only was Peter Smith married but the photo used in the ad was of HIS WIFE. A third-party application had mined Facebook’s data, collected a photo of Cheryl Smith and used it in its advertising. Cheryl, who runs culturesmithconsulting.com blogged about her experience. The only thing stopping this from to you is Facebook’s good graces. Facebook said the ad was a violation of its terms of service and the offending ad was removed.
You’re Not Entitled to Compensation
All told Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, YouTube and the 800lb-gorilla Facebook made nearly $3.5 billion from free user-generated content, a concept that would have been laughable just a few years ago but seems to be the norm thanks to Google. As the saying goes with social network platforms, if the service is free then you’re the product. For example, in early 2011, Facebook announced it would allow third-party applications access to the users’ addresses and mobile phone numbers. So that means any application that you let in with that little grey “Allow,” button has access to such personal information that you thought only your friends did. Not a big deal for businesses, but a huge deal for teens, single women, older adults and any who is a frequent victim of criminals.
In a sense, social networks are selling your thoughts, images, and contact information to any third-party willing to pay to access them. You can end this free IP partnership by deleting the IP content. But it will stay on Facebook’s backup files for an undetermined amount of time. Facebook, of course, isn’t alone. In a world where the biz model is to make money from your users, most social networks have such sweeping IP claims in its terms of service.
In addition, there is little or nothing preventing vendors from infringing upon your copyright or trademarks through social networks. In 2008, Hasbro sued the makers of Scrabulous – an online word game that was a lot like Scrabble. Scrabulous had 500,000 users and was making about $25,000 a month. While Hasbro’s own online Scrabble game was struggling to catch on. Scrabulous was forced to shut down and has since remerged as Lexulous. But Hasbro had to go through Facebook to get the popular game shut down making a social networker its brand policeman.
LinkedIn’s Policy Even Worse Than Facebook
Like to post those cool SlideShare presentations to LinkedIn? Never thought about making money from it? LinkedIn can. LinkedIn goes so far as to claim the right to “to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties.”
Yep. Really. Share IP knowledge through LinkedIn messaging – they can claim it. Where do you think LinkedIn gets all that “research,” it releases to the public? You! Most of it you readily agree to release. But sometimes you don’t. Take the case of the Rage Meme. In 2010, a popular online apparel site Hot Topic took a visual meme created in the notoriously sardonic online community of 4chan and slapped it on a T-shirt, selling it for $19 a pop without any compensation to the original meme creator. And uproar ensued and Hot Topic has since discontinued selling the shirts
Though users are reluctant to sue their social masters – the networks do after all provide a platform for people to connect, create and commercialize their wares – it’s only a matter of time before creators start relishing less their social notoriety and wanting more their social windfalls!