Monday, February 16, 2009

New Facebook Terms of Service grant Facebook the ownership of your content. Forever.

Marketing Vox, one of my favorite daily reads, just posted a story about the new Facebook terms of service, terms that essentially stake Facebook's claim to own all of your posted perpetuity. That's anything and everything you post to your Facebook account. Including your uploaded RSS streams from other blogs.

The actual offending paragraph of the Terms of Service read:
You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof. You represent and warrant that you have all rights and permissions to grant the foregoing licenses.
The most disturbing sentence in the paragraph above is this one: "with the right to sublicense". Which essentially is Facebook telling their users that they can sell the subrights to any posted content on Facebook. This includes your personal information, any notes you import as RSS feeds and your personal photos. And theoretically, the way this is written, if you're an author who posts portions of your work-in-progress on your Facebook account, those portions belong to Facebook. Forever.

Why didn't Facebook users put up more of a fuss when the Terms of Service were changed? Because Facebook didn't tell anyone they'd changed them.

So am I going to delete my Facebook account? Nope. Facebook is still a valuable networking and promotional tool. I've always been pretty careful about what I post there, and the few photos that I have online of my cats aren't going to fetch any big bucks. And my blog is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Pretty much anyone in the world can use these blog posts with attribution. (Or without; like I can control that?) And if Facebook really wants to compile and sell a list of my crappy Lexulous scores and the number of times I've been fed to werewolves by friends to gain points in our ongoing Vampire/Slayer/Werewolf/Zombie struggle for world domination, well, they're welcome to it.

But of you're a writer/photographer/creator of any kind, I would suggest not posting any intellectual property on Facebook that you may want the right to sell later. Just in case.

More at Consumerist and Technosailor. Read the full Facebook TOS here.


Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

I just reposted that. Absolutely infuriating. now I really regretted signing up for Facebook two months ago.

Jeanie W said...

Thanks for posting on this. Looks like we may need to get the US Congress involved. FB's terms have become completely unreasonable. Seems like stealing to me.

Carly Tuma said...

Thank you so much for posting this. My sister is a professional photographer, and she posts some of her sample photos on Facebook. Hopefully now that she knows about this, she'll be able to take her photos down before Facebook can make a profit with them.

S.M.D. said...

Aren't they legally obligated to tell you when they chance their ToS?

Jodi Meadows said...

Argh. *deletes everything from Facebook*

Evil evil evil.

(And I *just* joined because everyone said it was cool.)

Amanda C said...

Does the 'subject only to your privacy settings' bit help protect Facebook users at all?

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Facebook began with such altruistic notions. Pity to see it become a behemoth of greed.

Makes me wonder how many other social networking and online media sites--such as Blogger--have similar terms of service.

alexandralittle said...

Delete, delete, delete.

grrlwriter said...

Thanks so much for letting us know about this. It's a shame because Facebook has been a wonderful way for me to keep in touch with family and friends. Alas, no more.

I'm actually contacting Facebook about this - I'm curious to see what they say.

Stockyard Queen said...

Thanks, Colleen. I've pulled the plug on my account and am spreading the word. This is just wrong.

Jen said...

Well, I'm stopping the automatic import of my blog. I only post stuff that I know is going to be edited, but I don't like the idea that FB "owns" my blog content regardless.

I just joined in December, and this is really, really off-putting.

Chiron said...

Wow. I'm so glad you shared this info. This is exactly why I hesitate to post my essay anywhere but my blogpost site. Yikes!

Thanks so much.

Chiron O'Keefe

PS. the word verification is "froun". Okay, so it's spelled incorrectly. It's still a nice tie-in to my reaction when I read your post. ARGH! *shakes fist at Facebook*

Vieva said...

charming. Way to trade on the fact that no one READS the TOS.

And even if they mean it as a CYA maneuver in case they end up re-using content - that's still reprehensible.

There's a reason my stuff is on MY websites. I know who owns what - I own it!


Jill Corcoran said...

thank you for posting this.
I post original work on my blog that imports into my facebook notes. Now I have to rethink that. Unfortunate because I know so many people who read my notes on fb and leave their comments there but would probably not click over to the blog. I think many of us like to keep things within our fb community...emphasis on community.

Jena said...

Thanks! I've linked to your post as well.

Ann Victor said...

I am totally freaked out about this! Can't thank you enough for bringing it to our attention Colleen!!

I'm going to:
1. keep my FB account as a networking tool but be very very discriminating about what I post on it, photos or text.
2. Complain to FB about these Draconian terms
3. Warn as many people as I can

Thanks again

Jeanie W said...

The way I read the terms, FB's use of your material is limited by the privacy settings you select.

If you delete your account, are the privacy settings deleted too? Is everything you've posted (which they still keep in their archives) then available for their future use?

Cat Moleski said...

Thank you so much. I have alerted several artist friends who post original photos, video, and poetry.

WendyCinNYC said...

Oh, ack. I just joined FB too. Thanks for posting this.

Aran said...

According to the page above, you retain copyright of any item you post.

"Yes, you retain the copyright to your content. When you upload your content, you grant us a license to use and display that content. For more information please visit our Terms of Use, which contain information about intellectual property, as well as your privileges and responsibilities as a Facebook user."

What these TOS are really saying is that when you post something to your profile, you cannot turn around and sue Facebook for copyright infringment if they redisplay your picture on some computer elsewhere in the world.

In addition, if you post a photo to someone else's wall, and then cancel your account, they do not have to remove that image from the person's wall.

This isn't really all that evil. If you granted the New York Times license to use a photo on their front cover in 1995, they would not be forced to go cut that image out of all existing copies of that newspaper if today you decide you no longer want to sell photos to the NYT.

S.M.D. said...

Aran: Would it really have been so hard for them to have said it like you just said it, though? The problem is the way it's worded now leaves the door wide open for ripping off content.

Mags said...

Interesting. I've got to wonder, though- how binding is this?

I clicked acknowledgment of the ToS when I joined, but I certainly don't recall clinking an acknowledgment of them since. If they've changed the ToS without notifying users or making them re-acknowledge the changes, wouldn't the original terms stand for those users.

Don't get me wrong- it's unconscionable, and definitely a big, big problem. I'm just wondering how they can enforce anything that hasn't been agreed to. I almost wonder if they're sending up a test balloon.

Keep spreading the word until that puppy pops.

Janet said...

Thanks for the heads-up. I guess I'll stop the automatic import of my blog too. Fortunately, I'd only posted one piece of very short flash fiction.

Observations from the Couch said...

So let me first off say, I'm not a lawyer, however I was the DMCA representative of record for a large user content driven company for more than a year.

With that in mind, I did just pull all of my IP on FB (photos) that I did not want to grant the license to and filed a DMCA takedown notice with Facebook against their own Terms of Service to remove my content from their servers and backup servers based on the claim that I, as a user, was not notified of the ToS change in advance, and, had I been, I would have pulled my content prior to the ToS change.

Remember, a DMCA notification is a legal document and subject to applicable laws. However, I have no compulsion against filing one to protect my IP when I was not told of the change.

Whether this was the appropriate thing to do, I'm not sure, however, since it is my IP, I should be protected in the filing being legitimate.

lainey bancroft said...

Hmm. Be interesting to see how this shakes down. Once I put something in cyber space, I pretty much 'give it up' anyway, but I can certainly see where this could cause problems.

Seems more than a little crock-eyed to me.

Thanks for the heads up.

Aran said...

Here is an official comment regarding the new TOS.

Barry Schnitt said...

Mark Zuckerberg has posted to the Facebook blog in an effort to clarify the issue:

Vivian Zabel said...

Oh, great, something else to worry about besides the CPSIA destroying books and small home creators of children's and babies' items and toys and other small businesses.



Nyssa said...


I'm pissed off now! I had all the RSS feeds for my articles, my reviews, my personal stuff, going through Facebook! The photos!

I'll go all Cybermen on their Face's and delete, delete!

Natisha LaPierre said...

I removed my blog from the notes section of FB too. I also removed my artwork.

I think it's skanky of them to assume ownership of anything posted to pages that are private. I use FB to connect with friends from high school, college, local friends, and writers (most of whom I've met in person). If I post something to a public forum, I take the responsibility of the posted material being there forever and ever. But my FB profile is set to private, and all of my content on FB has different tiers of privacy (not visible to anyone not on my friend list). So, if they use the material that is posted in "privacy," aren't they breaking some rules?

Nyssa said...

OH NO! Another way in which to get you: I can't actually delete my RSS url on there! What am I going to do? I don't want them to have my content I worked so hard for, not to mention I had permission to repost and these guys practically have stolen it ><

ryan field said...

Thank you so much for this post. I use facebook as a promotional tool and I've never actually posted any written work there. But I have a good friend who posts his actual work there. I'm sending him a link to your post right now.

Jill Corcoran said...

Many of us import our blogs into facebook notes. NETWORKED BLOGS seems like a safer way to add blog posts to your facebook wall than importing into your notes. You can set it to only post your blog titles and then direct people to your blog.

I have been emailing back and forth with someone from Network Blogs and he said...

Although NetworkedBlogs lives in Facebook, it's a separate application and it has a Facebook app and a separate web site ( ). I don't think any TOS can make the content you write become someone else's property. If you wrote it, you hold the copyright. Again, I'm no lawyer, but if that wasn't the case, then you have to worry about any tool that imports your blog feed because they could claim that they own your content. I don't think that's the case.

...You can control whether you want just the title, or the title/summary/pic through the "feed settings" menu on the blog page. It depends on whether you set it to publish "oneline stories" or "short stories"

Either way, you can disable pulling the feed if you like by clicking on "edit details" and check the box that says "this blog has no feed".

They are very nice and totally on top of things.

Here is my link if you want to check out NetworkedBlogs:

Jill Corcoran's Blog Network on Facebook

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of this which I saw a while back:

Jeffrey L Riffe said...

Fortunately I am naturally over-cautious. If they can earn a buck off my Star Wars Trivia scores, then they are welcome. Otherwise they get NOTHING!

Anonymous said...

I only joined 3 months ago and was about to post my photography work. My FB account was zapped as of 5 mins ago. Thx for the tip off. We are watched 24/7 by surveillance cams and now FB changes its TOS. Shouldn't they be informing all users so they can opt out if they wish??

Denny said...

I note that comments posted on the official Facebook blog post don't show up there - they just disappear into some internal system (or just disappear). Clearly they're not very interested in transparent operations.

RA Friedman said...

When I was doing rights and reproductions, one of my ground rules was: "Never grant rights in perpetuity and never to sub-license."

Magaly Guerrero said...

This is outrageous! I’m glad the “mirror blog” didn’t work when I tried. I feel bad for the bunch of people who have already posted so many important things.

anniegirl1138 said...

FB is bleeding money and there is some question as to whether it can survive at all without starting to charge its users. Of course they are going to try and bring in revenue any way they can think of to forestall fees.

But a lot of published authors use the site to generate fans and sales of material that is already copyrighted and in the U.S. and Canada, copyright is presumed to the author from the moment something exists, so it would be interesting to see what would happen if FB tangled in court with someone.

But anything posted anywhere on the internet is somewhat fair game and people need to be aware of that.

J. M. Strother said...

Amanda French posted a nice comparison of the Facebook TOS with other social networking sites' TOS.

Seems most of the others are a bit more reasonable. At any rate, I unlinked my blog from FB. I'll keep my account, but past very little content.

J said...

The Facts of Duh.

It is certainly no surprise that when you post something on what is someone's else's website, it is no longer yours.

Yes, a huge surprise: most users haven't realized until now that "free" photo sites, social networking sites, etc., are simply USING you to acquire content for free.

Wake up and smell the terms you supposedly read when you signed on!