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Do You Read “Terms of Service”? Who Owns Your Content? Should you Be Scared?


I was recently reading the blog post by Brian Solis over at PR 2.0 entitled "Facebook and the Reality of Your Online Content" and I wanted to ask the question, do you read the terms of service?

I came from the legal world before getting into this web 2.0/social media/blogosphere/Twittersphere or whatever the case may be.  I am the first to recognize that many people have no clue what I am talking about when I mention the three letters of TOS.  We have referred to this in many circles as the fine print, the end of that car commercial where the guy talks at a million miles a minute and we really have no idea what he is legally disclosing to us.  Of the 175 Million or whatever number of users there are in Facebook and other online social networks, I wonder what the number of users are that actually pay attention to what they are signing on for and how they are effected?  Did you read the Terms of Service?

Many of us would be horrified by the things that we have agreed to in these sites.  Brian spells out for us an excerpt from the Facebook TOS that causes me alarm:

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.

I unfortunately understand the terms, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive and other spooky terms used.  I have seen them wielded like a weapon in the legal world and used quite effectively. This is a time of watching as we see networks try to move to the next level.  Most of them had no idea they were going down a path and now they are trying to retrofit ways to monetize and use information as it is collected.  Keep your eye out for more things like this to unfold as we see companies like Twitter try to implement a business plan.  How can they change their legal rights after the fact?  They change their Terms of Service.  Have you read them recently?

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