Thursday, February 19, 2009


I've been informed that Facebook has backed off their new Terms of Service, reverting to the more previous limited-license arrangement with the caveat that archive copies will be kept on their servers. Copyright is retained by the originators of the content. This reversion to the original TOS is more in line with the demands of the thousands of users whose footsteps were fading fast as they deleted content and ran from the site.

Online rights is a strange and dicey issue, every bit fits the cliche of "the brave new world" (with apologies to Huxley & Shakespeare). Facebook is correct inasmuch as they complain that a promise to delete content upon cessation of the creator's account would be misleading since their online friends may have retained copies of the content. This creates an exposure for them in terms of liability for making unsupportable claims. Yet it is the very community aspects Facebook trades upon which draw us to the site to begin with which create the problems and creates a dichotomy that isn't easy for the legal minds to parse. On the one hand, users should retain the full rights to their creations, on the other hand, we all need to be cognizant that anything put on the Internet is forever. In some place, at some time, even if only in an individual viewer's cache, that work is archived and infinitely retrievable.

However, all online providers need to understand that most e-literate writers realize (to some extent) this and the provider's desire to mitigate legal exposure does not require a blanket claim of rights to the work posted on their site. Moreover, midnight changes that represent sweeping claims overriding the individual content creators' right to their own content will not be tolerated by those who are cognizant of themselves as writers (or photographers, artists, &c).

We are also aware that it is the terms of the TOS that will be at the top of the legal arguments if ever a disagreement came to court on this subject and the statements of the spokespeople are not necessarily enforceable when there is a discrepency between the two. Please have more respect for intelligence of the user.

Kudos to Facebook for the about-face, reacting quickly to their users' complaints. The internet is a work-in-progress, and respect for the opinions and intellect of the user is good PR, good policy and good business sense.

It's been an exciting and educational week!


Cross-posted at Red Room

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).