Facebook can do whatever it wants with your intellectual property

By using Facebook, you turn over rights to your intellectual property (IP), giving Facebook permission to do whatever it wants to with it. Seriously, anything. At http://www.facebook.com/terms.php?ref=pf, in section 2, point 1, “Sharing your content and information,” this is stated quite clearly.

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Photographs come first to mind as the kind of content that FB might make good use of. Probably other services such as Flikr offer better platforms for publishing photographs. Nonetheless I am sure that many of the snapshots posted to FB are, either by design or accident, excellent. Although it is not my area of expertise I can think of some business opportunities. For $30 or so at the Apple Store I can buy royalty-free clip art. This would not even require that the photos be any good. The standard for coffee table books is astonishingly low. Barbequing, sunsets, fishing trips, friendship. Now that I think of it, I am sure that there are many people who would pay $1.99 for, say, three months access to a database of profile photos. Users create a folksonomy to organize them. I conjecture that most terms will be concentrated on giving users access to images that satisfy the voyeuristic impulses of men ages 16–35, a central use of technology for generations. Consider “coed, blond, upskirt, swimsuit. MILF, spring break.” This in turn is sold back to application developers. I doubt that facebook’s robots will identify the Great American Novel as it is being written in facebook notes, but if they do, its author has already given that content away.

To be fair, any provider of social networking applications, blogs, and any other platform for publishing material provided by users will need to claim substantial rights to store, copy, and transfer user content. The service will copy user-created information from server to server, for instance, in the course of normal operations. Some of the back end may be oursourced, requiring the transfer of user data to a third party. The data will be backed up by these providers, in turn.

Nonetheless, a license open-ended as facebook’s is not, apparently, required for this. Blogger and WordPress.com both limit the license they claim for themselves. Blogger’s terms of service, http://www.blogger.com/terms.g, point 6, “Intellectual Property Rights:”

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying and distributing Google services.

WordPress.com terms of service, http://en.wordpress.com/tos/, point 8:

By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog.

Looking at the Facebook terms of service Section 2, point 3, it appears that applications can set their own IP policies.

When you use an application, your content and information is shared with the application. We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information.  (To learn more about Platform, read our Privacy Policy and Platform Page.)

I would also like to point out that “To learn more about Platform” is abhorrent from a stylistic point of view. It’s as if I named my laptop “Laptop,” and then started saying “when I power up Laptop, it makes a pleasant chime.”

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