Join the cyber-revolt! Who owns your Facebook stuff?

I am well pleased with the current tide of resentment that’s building towards the way that Facebook is doing business.

We’ve had the amazing spectacle this week of the Facebook admins having to delete groups and personal accounts after public outrage over cyber-vigilantes baying for blood and revenge in the most obscene ways. [The witches of Facebook / Facebook vigilantes]

And, in an ironic twist of fateful timing, in the same week Facebook announced and then withdrew new terms of service because users kicked up a fuss.

The Facebook admins have been forced to create a group of their own Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, to allow users to address their concerns over who owns the rights to user-generated content on the site.

There’s certainly a fair smattering of dribblejaws on Facebook, but there’s also a large number of active citizens (netizens) who recognise the professional and social advantages of the networking site, but who are also savvy enough to argue points of law with the Facebook admins.

This could well be a watershed case about digital rights that rivals the Napster file-sharing case as a test of copyright and privacy law.

It’s a classic example of what I call the “techno-legal time-gap”. The law and the ethical regime do not keep pace with the technology. In this case it seems Facebook wants the right to sub-licence material (re-sell it) and to profit from what its members post.

The Facebook admins posted a long-ish introduction to their new group, which already has over 60,000 members.

This group is for people to give input on Facebook’s terms of use. These terms are meant to serve as the governing document for how the service is used by people around the world.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Here are responses to some of the things you’ve written below:

1. You own your information. Facebook does not. This includes your photos and all other content.

2. Facebook doesn’t claim rights to any of your photos or other content. We need a license in order to help you share information with your friends, but we don’t claim to own your information.

3. We won’t use the information you share on Facebook for anything you haven’t asked us to. We realize our current terms are too broad here and they make it seem like we might share information in ways you don’t want, but this isn’t what we’re doing.

4. We will not share your information with anyone if you deactivate your account. If you’ve already sent a friend a message, they’ll still have that message. However, when you deactivate your account, all of your photos and other content are removed.

5. We apologize for the confusion around these issues. We never intended to claim ownership over people’s content even though that’s what it seems like to many people. This was a mistake and we apologize for the confusion.

For more information about this, check out Mark’s recent posts on the Facebook blog:

We look forward to reading your comments.

It seems that Facebook is facing its own cyber-revolution and is trying to climbdown from its previous position.

A number of groups have sprung up to counter the hate-speech and sheer idiocy that’s emerged in response to the Victorian bushfires case and the public pressure is growing on the site’s administrators to deal with these issues in a way that meets with the approval of users. Facebook could also be facing legal issues in Australia over the cyber-vigilante groups who ignored suppression orders and may well be in contempt of court.

Facebook users, it appears, are not prepared to give up their rights without a fight.

There’s one other important issue here that I think will also impact on the news media – or at least it should!

Note above that point 1. says:

You own your information. Facebook does not. This includes your photos and all other content.

Thus, it would seem that copyright on that information also resides with “you” – that is with “us” Facebook users. If so, what is the legal position regarding its further use by media organisations?

Do journalists have the right to download and copy images and text from “our” Facebook pages to illustrate a story they’re writing? I would argue that they don’t, the response is usually “Well, it’s public information, so we can.” [Social networking and the NYT]

There is a difference between information being in the public domain – in this case available to other Facebook users who have agreed to the terms and conditions of service and to whom “we” give permission to access our pages (via “friending” etc) – and what I’m calling the “plundering” of information by the news media.

It seems to me that reporters who want to use an image or text from a Facebook page should, as a matter of common courtesy above all else, seek the owner’s permission before downloading and copying it.

One Response to Join the cyber-revolt! Who owns your Facebook stuff?

  1. Marty, I’m in the middle of writing a conference paper about the use of social media profiles as a source of biographical material by news media, so I’ve also been following the latest brouhahas with interest. The downside of the timing is that I was just about to start approaching news organisations for information about what, if any, editorial policies they have in place for handling such material — I suspect I will encounter even more suspicion than usual in the current climate.

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