Facebook Nation Says Give Us Back Our Stuff!

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:32 a.m.
Boys and Girls: We've just discovered that Facebook Nation is the sixth largest country in the world, 175 million strong. Yes, there are 175 million of us who have nothing better to do than upload gossip, photos, and play with ridiculously silly applications that give mysterious companies around the world all the personal data that we put up on Facebook. Think of it - 175 million people with nothing better to do. No wonder we are in a serious recession; we’re all playing on freaking Facebook!

Yet along comes the news that Facebook has changed something that we pay no attention to (my media source said “quietly changed” which makes Facebook sound ve-e-ry sneaky) Facebook changed its user policy so that we don’t have exclusive rights to the text, photos and other miscellanea that we put on Facebook. Kaboom! Big to-do! The response was apparently furious enough to make Facebook have a re-think and to inspire the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to prepare a federal complaint against Facebook:

“It appears that the major thrust of EPIC's--and many others' anger--at Facebook stems from new language in the privacy policy that grants the company seemingly perpetual control over content users post there:

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....” (Webware, http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-10166290-2.html?tag=mncol;txt February 17, 2009)

Here I am, blissfully blogging away as the attention-seeking little writer that I am, completely ignorant of the fact that Facebook could have all legal rights to what I write simply because I upload my Somebody’s Mother rants on Facebook. That is just not kosher!

A few years back, Billy Bragg (British folksinger, author and political activist) launched a similar onslaught against MySpace. Young musicians often put their work on MySpace so that people can see and listen to them. It’s a great way for Indie Rock to spread the word about new artists. The problem was, of course, that with such a policy, young composers would lose the rights to their music. Who in their right mind would put their music on MySpace knowing that?

MySpace retracted this policy and I haven’t heard much about it since. Facebook has done much the same thing. Apparently tens of thousands of Facebook users went on the Facebook blog and protested the changes in the terms of service, urging Facebook to go back to its old policy. Most of you Facebook-ers must have seen the notice the other day at the top of the screen that Facebook has done just that, gone back to its old policy but the post did say that they will be examining the Terms of Service and that changes will be coming up again.

I think that this is a big wake-up call to all of us about being careful on the Internet. Personally, I believe in the strength and anonymity of numbers. Why the hell Facebook needs my texts and photos is beyond me. Yet for others, I could see big problems. If Facebook sites can be used as legal evidence in a criminal case, you have no recourse. They own it, the government asks for it and Facebook will happily hand it over, pure and simple.

If someday, I want to write a book of all my Somebody’s Mother columns and blogs, is Facebook going to get the profits? Maybe it isn’t me who will from suffer this ambiguity about ownership. Maybe it will be a far more talented writer than me.

The Internet has been around for awhile but it’s apparent that it’s still frontier territory when it comes to who owns what. We’ve all been leery of having the Internet legislated into a bland approximation of what television is. So meanwhile, it’s back to the old “Buyer, Beware.”

Facebook is free for now but if there’s a way to make more money off our backs, you can be sure that Facebook will be on it like bears on honey. It’s up to us to keep from getting stung.



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