A)How Important is Archiving the Real-Time Web?
Have you ever wondered what would happen to your content on third-party sites if those sites ceased to exist? You may own your content on them as it stands now, but what if they went away?
Would you be ok if your tweets or your status updates disappeared?
You may recall earlier this year when URL-shortening service Tr.im announced it was going to shut down and sparked a big discussion about what happens to all of these links if such a service just decides it doesn’t want to exist anymore. It is an interesting discussion, and it ultimately led to Tr.im having a change of heart and deciding to remain functional.
Now, the Internet Archive has announced the launch of 301Works.org, a service, which archives shortened URLs. The organization sums up the need for such a service pretty well:
The use of shortened URLs has grown dramatically due to the popularity of Twitter and similar micro–streaming services where posts are limited to a small number of characters. Millions of shortened URLs are generated for users every day by a wide variety of companies.
But when a URL shortening service shuts down, the shortened URLs people put in their blogs, tweets, emails and web sites break. Unless users have kept a record of each shortened URL and where it was supposed to redirect to, it’s not possible to fix them.
Over 20 URL shortening services have gotten involved with 301Works.org, and Bit.ly (Twitter’s service of choice) has already begun donating archives.
“Short URL providers have in the space of eighteen months become a corner stone of the real time web – 301Works.org was conceived to provide redundancy so that users and services could resolve a URL mapping regardless of availability. The Internet Archive is a perfect host organization to run and manage this for all providers,” said Bit.ly CEO John Borthwick.
“The Internet Archive is honored to play this role to help make the Web more robust,” added Brewster Kahle, founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive.
The issue of archiving the web of course touches a much broader spectrum than that of URL-shorteners. 301Works should go a long way for maintaining shortened URLs, but what about Facebook updates? Tweets? What if Facebook or Twitter decided to shut down one day? According to Twitter’s terms of service, you own your content, but Twitter does host it and they have control over it regardless of whether or not you own it. Jesse Stay talked about this with WebProNews in a recent interview:
The concept of Twitter or Facebook shutting down seems far-fetched, but the same thing probably could’ve been said about Geocities 12 years ago. Now Yahoo has shut it down. It’s just something to think about. Given the speed of the real-time web, it seems that archiving could become a concept of growing importance.
Chris Crum /2009
B)Facebook terms and conditions: why you don’t own your online life
When joining a social network, you are likely to spend more time considering which photo you will use on your profile than reading the lengthy terms of service document. And yet, off-putting though Facebook’s 14,000-word terms of service and data use policy might be, it is a legal contract between you and the social network. Do you know what you’ve signed up for?
Last month, users of Instagram reacted with anger at proposed changes to the company’s terms that would give the mobile photo-sharing app the right to use member’s photos in advertising campaigns.
In some ways, the change was a positive step. It eschewed traditional legal language, instead using clear terminology to precisely explain what the company would and would not do with its members’ content. But that clarity made obvious the lengths to which the company might go in order to monetise the free service. Even after Instagram had reversed its decision, removing the controversial elements from their new terms of service, some users still closed their accounts in protest.
What rights have users granted to online services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google? Does posting content on these networks mean forfeiting your ownership of your photos, for example?
A photo posted on Twitter remains the intellectual property of the user but Twitter’s terms give the company “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense)”. In practice, that gives Twitter almost total control over the image and the ability to do just about anything with it. The company claims the right to use, modify or transmit it your photo any way.
Callum Sinclair, partner in the Intellectual Property and Technology group of law firm, DLA Piper, says that Twitter’s terms, to which every new member must agree, “grant extremely broad rights over your content… With these terms companies are saying ‘you own your content, but we can just use it however we want.'”
Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group, a non-profit group who campaign for users rights online, believes that many terms of service are confusing and misleading for users. He says: “A lot of the time it really isn’t transparent what these agreements mean. People haven’t really understood what they have entered into. Often companies will over-egg what they need, and it’s a land grab for users’ rights and content.”
The most striking example of such a ‘land grab’ can be seen on professional networking site LinkedIn. LinkedIn makes broad claims over users’ content, giving it the ability to “copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialise, in any way now known or in the future discovered…” LinkedIn applies this claim not only to users content, but also all data, concepts or even ideas passed through their service.
LinkedIn’s catch-all terms of service have been agreed to and accepted by a host of high-profile business people, including Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, Arianna Huffington, president of The Huffington Post Media Group and James Caan, CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw and a regular on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den.
Mr Sinclair warns that these business people, like many users, may not have realised what they were agreeing to, but advises users not sign up blindly to a companies terms of service.
“I must recommend everyone actually try to read the terms, even if it is just the key terminology,” he says. “Because you are publishing on these company’s services, you may have already forfeited any sort of intellectual property rights you may have had to such content.”
Twitter now includes a brief explanation under each paragraph of legalese, explaining what it means to grant a ‘non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license’ to their content. Mr Sinclair explains “In reality there is little difference between your ownership and their license when the terms of the licenses over your content are this broad.”
What the terms of service say
With over a billion users, Facebook is the definitive homepage for many web users. Its terms of service, data use and cookie use policy span more than 14,000 words over eight separate pages and would take even the quickest reader more than two hours to dig through. But what rights have you handed over to Facebook?
Specifically for photos and video uploaded to the site, Facebook has a license to use your content in any way it sees fit, with a license that goes beyond merely covering the operation of the service in its current form. Facebook can transfer or sub-license its rights over a user’s content to another company or organisation if needed. Facebook’s license does not end upon the deactivation or deletion of a user’s account, content is only released from this license once all other users that have interacted with the content have also broken their ties with it (for example, a photo or video shared or tagged with a group of friends).
Fast becoming the second social network behind Facebook, Twitter’s model for monetising the service has yet to be established, a fact clearly seen in its terms of service. Twitter’s terms give it broad scope to use, change and distribute any photos, writing or video posted through Twitter’s service, to any other forms of media or distribution method it wishes, including those which Twitter has not yet thought of or developed. Similarly to Facebook, Twitter’s license also allows it to pass any of your content to any partner organisations for any reason.
Making only small waves in the field of social networking, Google+ is probably not the place where most users first agreed to Google’s terms of service. Most users probably signed up through one of Google’s many online services like Gmail, Google Maps or Google Drive. Luckily Google has a modest set of terms when it comes to user’s content, restricting its use of such content only for “the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.”
The free file storage service that promises to ‘simplify your life’ takes only the smallest liberties with its user’s content and rights. Dropbox limits their use of your data “solely to provide the services… no matter how the services change, we won’t share your content with others…” These permissions do extend to allowing Dropbox to share user’s data with “trusted third parties” but again, only in order to provide their existing services.
Oliver Smith /2013
C)Who Owns Your Content Online?
Myspace got into hot water last year for deleting years of users’ blog posts before its re-launch. There was uproar from users, and in response Myspace created an export tool to allow them to download their old posts from the site.
Were users right to get upset? Did Myspace have to hand over old posts to users whose accounts had been deleted?
The short answer is that, legally, it didn’t have to do a thing.
What are your rights to the content you post?
If you regularly post content to a social network or blogging platform, you should consider two issues:
- Who owns the rights to the content you post?
- The availability of the platform on which the content appears.
Let’s look first at who owns the rights to the content. It’s fairly straightforward: if you created the content, you own it. That is, assuming you haven’t assigned rights to another party (for example, a company which paid you to create the content) – and it doesn’t infringe copyright.
What you don’t own, fairly obviously, is the platform on which you’re posting that content.
If you’re posting to WordPress or Facebook, for example, you are relying on the availability of the platform to host your content for you. You don’t automatically have the right to expect the people at that platform to do so.
Mostly, these are free services. The platform owner couldn’t possibly guarantee the availability of the service – managing the legal risk would be too great. What if it went bust, or was bought? It has to retain the right to delete content, or to suspend users.
Read the terms and conditions
As ever, the detail is in the contract: the terms and conditions that so few people read until it’s too late.
The main social media and blogging platforms retain the right to terminate or suspend the service at their discretion, at any time.
Broadly, what varies is how each platform communicates this. Google’s terms of service (for all its properties including Blogger and Google+), say: “If we discontinue a service, where reasonably possible, we will give you reasonable advance notice and a chance to get information out of that service.”
This is an unusually user-friendly statement, and Google is the most explicit of the main platforms on the issue of getting information out in the event of a service suspension.
In July 2013, Tumblr (acquired by Yahoo in May 2013) shut down the account of Bohemea, a blogger with more than 100,000 followers, after the platform received five complaints that she had used copyrighted material in her posts. According to the blogger, she offered to take down the material in question, but was not given the opportunity to do so.
Tumblr’s terms of service say it “may change, suspend, or discontinue any or all of the Services at any time, including the availability of any product, feature, database, or Content … Tumblr may also terminate or suspend Accounts … at any time, in its sole discretion”.
So it was completely within its rights in this case. Sometimes, a platform or service might not have the resource (or inclination) to investigate every legal complaint, and it might just be simpler to delete the post or user causing the problem. Paid sites (and therefore often those with better funding) might have more resources to be able to investigate.
Don’t risk losing your followers and your hard work
But a following of 100,000 is hard won, and even harder to win back after a suspension. There is a real risk that you could lose everything you’ve worked for, if you’re relying solely on a third-party platform as a place to build your reputation or following.
Even if you own the content you’ve created, you may, by agreeing to the terms of a site, be granting that site a licence to use your posts. This is most notably true in Facebook’s case.
The terms state: “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.”
However, it goes on to say: “For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”
So you own your content, but you can’t fully control where and how it is used by Facebook. It is, after all, a free service (for now anyway – note the term that says “We do not guarantee that the platform will always be free”). That’s the trade-off.
How to protect your content
What should you do to protect yourself? Here is my checklist to minimise the risk of losing your content:
- Always read the terms and conditions of the platforms you use, so you’re not caught out
- Minimise the risk of suspension: abide by the terms of the platform and check you’re not infringing copyright on anything you post
- Respond promptly to any copyright infringement allegations
- Never rely on a platform to be the sole repository of your IP, or your fans / followers
- Consider spreading the risk across different platforms
- Have a plan B, in case the platform goes down or your account is suspended
- Take back-ups of everything you post.
Rachel Boothroyd /2014