Mark Twain wrote that Benjamin Disraeli said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” And though we can’t prove the quote came from Disraeli—there are alternative sayings before that—it nonetheless came to mind recently while reading about Facebook’s upcoming changes to their various service terms.
According to their Terms of Service update, most notably the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” update, which goes into effect on January 1, 2015, anyone posting intellectual property on Facebook basically grants Mark Zuckerberg’s company free rein to do with that property as they wish.
So let’s see where this goes.
According to Facebook’s own document (linked above), we find this:
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.
- When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
- When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
And then we find TIME toeing the party line. To wit:
[People worried about their content being sold] are wrong, says Matt Steinfeld, Facebook’s Privacy Communications Manager. “The passage in our terms of service that covers your information and your content has not changed,” he tells TIME. “We can’t sell property that we don’t have. You own the things you share on Facebook.”
But let us be mindful and legal in our interpretation of these events. Because clearly we’re being assumed as idiots. Which we’re not.
The article goes on to say,
By signing up to the social media site, users agree to grant Facebook “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.” This license, however, ends “when you delete your [Intellectual Property] content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”
Steinfeld argues that this license is required to allow Facebook to show that particular content on its platform. “But we can’t turn around and sell [it] without your knowledge or permission,” he adds.
At which point I—and anyone with a brain—immediately thinks of Mark Twain’s quote.
[…] 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).
Facebook’s own document contradicts their words. It says that anything we post is automatically their property and they can sell it, license it, use it, and otherwise abuse it.
But does it mention anything about requiring our permission or notification to us?
Absolutely not. Again, read the update in its entirety.
The TIME article goes on to say that the license terms only grant Facebook a use right for intellectual property but that a third party would have difficulty using that same property. Which isn’t the case at all. The terms grant Facebook the right to sub-license the content, an act that would grant a third party non-exclusive rights to use that content.
So claiming otherwise once again brings to mind Mark Twain’s quote.
Their terms make clear they can license our property to third parties without notice or consideration or compensation. And it says that sub-licensing is not exclusive. Which means even a third party has no obligation to notify us, let alone cancel or delete the content if we delete our content.
“I think people are rightly interested in making sure that they have ownership and control over the things they are sharing,” Steinfeld adds. “When people see things [that allude to the fact] that it might not be the case, they are understandably worried. But, the fact of the matter is that it’s pretty clear-cut. There’s no question that people own the things they share on Facebook.”
Unfortunately, it’s not clear-cut and there is room for question. Facebook’s legal documents show that anything posted comes with all the licensing and use rights Facebook needs to sell or otherwise commercialize that content. And it makes clear that we, the creators of said content, have no control over what Facebook does with it.
This is not complicated. It’s as simple as being able to read plain English. Because it’s right there in writing.
I’m not so much concerned about the rampant licensing of my content without notice or compensation as I am the confusion created when legal documents are contradicted by a spokesman. It doesn’t change the terms to say something contrary to them, but it does mislead the public into thinking those documents say something that they clearly don’t say.
Again I’m forced to think of Mark Twain’s quote.