Facebook thought we were stupid

SOCIAL networking site Facebook quietly altered its terms and conditions back in February. A clause in Facebook's terms of service allows them to alter those conditions at any time without notice.

They removed the terms of service clause that stated "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", although Facebook could keep still archived copies of these.

This was replaced with: "The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service." This effectively meant that anything users ever put on Facebook belonged to Facebook forever, even if the users had subsequently taken it down. Remember those embarrassing pictures of yourself you took when you were still at school, the ones you decided to take down before you make that job application some years later? Yes, these would now belong to Facebook in perpetuity, including rights to "publicly perform" users' content, and to use their "name, likeness and image" for "commercial and advertising purposes."

It seems that Facebook either felt users wouldn't notice the change in its terms of service, or wouldn't understand its implications if they did notice, or would accept Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's explanation to his users that he "needed" these rights in order to legally facilitate user content sharing.

In the event, the huge outcry from Facebook users meant that the clause in question was quickly removed, and replaced with a slightly better version of the original contract. Facebook users can now happily waste vast amounts of their valuable time on the site, safe in the knowledge that Facebook can no longer profit from their now deleted pictures of themselves taken when they were drunk all those years ago.

The Facebook affair shows that the general public do occasionally show an interest in copyright.

With an increasing number of freelance journalists using "free" sites like Flickr and Blogger.com to showcase their work, it's more important than ever to study diligently the terms of service before signing up, and periodically to review them to check they haven't unexpectedly changed. It's probably a good idea to give some thought now to having a (paid-for, tax-deductible) back-up plan and domain name ready for when your current free blogging or photo-sharing hosts try to grab all your rights, start charging money or go out of business.

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