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Who’se content is it anyhow?

Continuing where I left off in my earlier posting, a much bigger issue is emerging from these talks. I came across a number of entries on various blogs that discuss the very unclear notion of who owns web content, especially when it is group generated. Tom Evslin posts a very informative entry on the subject. According to what he says signing the EULA, TOS, TOA (terms…) when subscribing to one of these services, could effectively wipe out your content related rights or close to it.

If you have a free Flikr (sic) account, Yahoo, which owns Flikr, (sic)will display ads with your pictures. The deal, whether you read the terms or not, is that Flikr (sic) is providing storage space and bandwidth to access your pictures; you’re providing content to attract attention to their ads.

Now this is becoming most disturbing. Some members of flickr during the discussion had brought this up. It seems that paid accounts are not subject to this as of yet. For those using Skype you may want to read what he has to say if you didn’t read the EULA to the end before you clicked ‘I agree’.

Evslin speaks of a storm brewing in the Blogosphere over the subject of ownership. Participating in any of these social spaces is being in the middle of these debates, consciously of not. Evslin adds:

There is a moral tone to much of the discussion. Users SHOULD own all rights to their content. Users are ENTITLED to share in any revenue generated from their content. Platform providers have a RIGHT to profit from their platforms to any degree they choose. Trust and transparency are moral issues as Jeff Jarvis rightly points out. But sharing the wealth, says I, is a business issue.

What I don’t yet understand is why basic copyrights are never invoked in these debates. Is the term and concept taboo in social software circles? Does it go against the ideology as I came to experience on Flickr? Can I choose (CC) or (C), but can I at least choose? But has it become the same as material created when working for an organization, as such owned by the organization? To me that wouldn’t make sense, because it is not the same. Evslin concludes with the same questions that I posed, even if he seems to treat the issue from a business point of view:

Who has the right to control how the content and data I provide is used? When do the interests of the service provider and the users come into conflict?

Jeff Jarvis has this to say:

you only get value from peers in a peer production system if the peers can control their use of the system, and since the value is in the contributions of the peers, trying to control them is ultimately self defeating: “If you give people control, they’ll use it, and if you don’t, you’ll lose it.” (Quoted from the first Union Square Sessions event, transcripts)

He’s right. If I lose my say around my own generated content, you can bet I won’t think twice in vacating the premises and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. For more on the subject and an interesting read, see Jeff Jarvis’ Buzz Machine, who owns the wisdom of the crowds? the crowd … of course. If we only knew who they were!!!


  1.    Falcon-Hart (subscribed to comments) says:

    Hello my klever friend,

    I think what is most maddening about this and related issues is that “offenders” hide behind fine print and legalities. Let’s assume that these forums are developed on the philosophical premise of bringing value and enrichment to the online experience (I’m being the devil’s advocate here). Does it really matter? The fact is, there are people who believe legalities and ethics are the same thing and that commiting an unethical act is OK as long as it’s not illegal. Fine print is just another way of saying, “we’re kind of aware of your rights because our lawyers told us we had to be and if you don’t read this and something happens, well tough.”

    Illegalities are pretty cut-and-dried, and if someone oversteps their boundaries, offended parties have recourse. But unethical behaviour continuously victimizes the offended, because not only do the need explain that a situation is offensive to them, they need to justify it (often over and over again) when others shrug it off. And unfortunately, being very aware of the possible ramifications (or even paranoid) and doing what you can to avoid them is not enough: someone somewhere will find a way to infringe on your rights.


    Posted November 11, 2005, 12:25 pm #      
  2.    Francine says:

    A lot of what is happening Falcon-Hart in social software circles is being written as we speak. The law is certainly not up to date with the creative developments that are happening out there. In between are people who should NEVER loose their freedom to choose no matter what the technology can do or what the business point of view is. Period. If they (the people) do we are looking for some pretty serious infringements of basic rights that may, IMHO eventually stir up a counter movement.

    The only problem is that many users have been stung by the techno-wonder bug and mistaken the object centered I share you share, as genuine human caring. I think some users need to grow up.

    Posted November 11, 2005, 6:18 pm #