The Consumerist published a story yesterday about Facebook’s new Terms of Service. The gist of the changes appears to be something like this. Facebook has always claimed rights to the content that you post there. But there used to be a clause stating that
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.
Now this clause is gone. Thus Facebook has legal (“irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide”) rights to your content.
On a personal note, these terms apply even to the content created by those individuals who place a Share This link on their personal sites, whether or not they are the ones who post the content on Facebook. I have a hard time believing that this would qualify as a conscionable contract, but I’m not a lawyer so what do I know. In any case, this means that I’ll be removing the Share on Facebook link from this blog.
The educational ramifications are important, I think. @academicdave tweeted the following this morning:
Just realized that facebook now owns the rights to one of my students recent projects (story told using facebook) even if they delete it.
This is a troubling thought. Instructors have a responsibility to their students and the work that those students do, and requiring that the students give essentially unlimited rights to their work to a corporate entity does not seem to me to be coincident with this responsibility. Of course, it was already the case that Facebook retained rights to these items before this TOS update, but the fact that these rights are now irrevocable, in my view, makes the question qualitatively different. Different enough that, while I used to be eager to talk to faculty members about how they might incorporate Facebook into their classes, I’m not certain that I can continue to do so with a clear conscience. There are lots of alternative spaces in which to share content where the restrictions aren’t so harsh.
Again, I’m not a lawyer, but I would be interested in knowing how the act of publishing something on Facebook, and the transfer of rights that it implies, interacts with any explicit licenses (e.g. Creative Commons) that you have given the content, especially where the Facebook license and the CC license are in disagreement with each other. Does anyone know anything about this?
I also wonder whether there will be sufficient backlash among the users of Facebook to make the company reconsider this updated TOS. I am pessimistic. My sense is that most people who use Facebook heavily aren’t thinking about this sort of issue.