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When Facebook changed its terms of service on Monday, it caused an immediate uproar, and when people screamed loudly enough, Facebook backed down. What this shows me is that although Facebook is a free service, it exists and is successful because we make it so.

The millions of people who sign up for the free service are the source of its revenue and as such, it's a symbiotic relationship. We use Facebook to connect with friends, and Facebook makes money. It is fairly trivial to make a service like Facebook--maybe not the application-building part, but certainly the community part, and if people decided to leave in large enough numbers, Facebook could lose significant ad revenue.

Whose content is it anyway?

It raises a question about online services in general. When you post content, whom does it belong to? Should you have a reasonable expectation of maintaining ownership? Amanda French did this analysis of terms of service on other free services and found that most (except LinkedIn) explicitly state that your content belongs to you. Certainly when you leave the service, the content should revert to you at the very least. That's why the Facebook change was so outrageous. It said, not only could Facebook use your stuff, even when you left you couldn't take your stuff back.

Brogan Weighs In

Many people were justifiably miffed, but others such as social media guru, Chris Brogan thought people were overreacting when he wrote: "They own your content. No matter what you feel, if you’ve put it on their servers, it’s in their possession." I think Brogan is a brilliant guy and I often agree with him, but in this instance I didn't.

Yes, they have possession of my content, but that doesn't mean they own it or that they can use it (and it certainly doesn't mean they own it forever even after I stop using the service). I was shocked by how many people agreed with Brogan in his comments section. It seemed that many folks didn't see it as that big deal. Ho hum. Facebook wants to own my pictures, big whoop, but others were outraged and the noise was loud.

Zuckerberg Wants us To Trust Him

In fact, it was loud enough that man-child Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (tell me he doesn't look he's about 12) went on Fox News and implored users to simply trust him. Excuse me while I laugh loudly. Funny thing is, Zuckerberg must have received a similar message because this morning we found that in fact, Facebook reverted to the old terms of service. Imagine that.

Zuckerberg did a 180 from 'Trust Us' and reverted to the terms of service from the day before yesterday and promised that Facebook was actually working on an entirely new ToS where and I quote:

"It will reflect the principles I described yesterday around how people share and control their information, and it will be written clearly in language everyone can understand."

Power to the People

In the end, people spoke up and enough made their feelings clear. Facebook to its credit recognized that it needs its members as much as the members need a service to connect to friends online. An online service is only viable if people use it, and if people become disenchanted and leave in large numbers, they lose their economic power. Remember that the next time some powerful force says you have to accept a change. Fact is you don't. You can use the power of social networking and make them hear you.

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Last Post by airbourne
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The whole notion of a social networking site "owning" what you post is ludicrous! What about photographers, journalists, book writers, artists that want to share some of their stuff with friends? They may still sell or otherwise market those materials to make a living.

Actually I amend that, the whole idea that ANY company owns what you post is just appalling. When did we, as normal consumers, need to copyright our lives just to make sure they are still ours?

The whole patent & copyright law needs a flush and a rewrite IMO due to companies trying (and often succeeding) to go beyond a "reasonable" level of intellectual property protection.

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Thanks for the comment.

I agree, but it goes overboard on both ways. You have companies like Facebook claiming (and then recanting) that they own your content, then you have companies like Warner Brothers suing some woman who puts up a YouTube video of her two year old dancing to a Prince song claiming that she is violating IP rights by including it in a video in this fashion. There has to be a common-sense middle ground that takes normal modern usage into account.

Thanks again for the comment.
Ron

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I kinda wish somebody like WB would sue me for a video like that. I'd like to see just how far they are willing to push that envelope. I see that lawsuit as frivolous and a waste of time and money, both of which WB would not be losing if they had just left that video alone.

The legal department at WB must be paid a salary for them to waste time sending out a letter for that. It's probably even their job to "find" stuff. We have a corporate lawyer "jurist doctorate" where I work, who once red-lined a contract to hell. In turn this extended it's signing for 2 weeks. The reason? Spelling errors...

I actually like the law and follow cases as a hobby, but stuff like this just burns me up. It makes me glad that people are still willing to band together and stand up for what is right.

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