This article was published 15 years ago

You don’t own anything online

Social networks are a great way to share your photos of last night’s party and videos of your chemistry teacher giving the commencement address at your high school graduation with your friends.

Hopefully you haven’t read the terms of service, otherwise you wouldn’t have posted that photo of your attractive girlfriend wearing a bikini on the beach.

Facebook, the popular social network with 196 million members, recent changed their terms of service and, once again, young adults were not pleased with the changes.  To show how frustrated they were, outraged users grabbed their pitch-forked and stormed the Facebook offices to voice their displeasure.

I might have been a little dramatic with the last sentence; users didn’t grab their pitch-forks and storm the offices.  Although it sounds like they did.

What’s the big deal?  Facebook changed their terms of service.  This was the old terms of service:

“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.”

This is the new terms of service:

“You hereby grant Facebook 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 you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.”

If you don’t like the new terms of service and would like to terminate your account, Facebook stills own your content.

“The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other.”

Even though this is the most extreme case of a company owning what their users upload, this isn’t the first time a social network has gotten in trouble with owning their users upload.

In 2006, MySpace changed their terms of service so that musicians that uploaded their music to the site became the sole property of Fox Interactive, the company that owns the social network site.  Fox Interactive could then sell the music without giving royalties from the sale of their music  to the musicians who made that song.

MySpace has changed their terms of service so that bands that upload music still have control of their music.

Before signing up, read the terms of service.  Some services allows users to retain ownership of what they upload – like Flickr.  Others, like Facebook, do not allow users to retain ownership of what they upload to the site.

If you don’t like a companies terms of service, either don’t use the service or host everything yourself – like I do at my blog

Editor’s note: While writing this column, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company has removed the new terms of service and replaced them with the previous terms.