Shame on you, Facebook, for overreaching

Facebook, I hereby grant to you an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use the following content: “Go jump in a lake.”

The past few days people have been talking about how scandalous it is that Facebook changed its terms of service to grab up a very broad license in content its users upload. I’m sure that Facebook is counting on this controversy to go wherever it is that memes go to die, to be forgotten just like most controversies-du-semaine. It probably will, but as the sentiment finds itself already on the decline, I’ll comment.

Here’s what the offending section of the Facebook terms of service now says, in relevant part:

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.

I was pretty peeved when I learned that Facebook had modified its terms to get a broader license. But I was even more peeved when I read founder Mark Zuckerburg’s blog post from yesterday which tried to justify the changes. Of course Facebook must make sure it has the rights it needs in order to “show [users’ content and information] to the other people they’ve asked [it] to share it with.” But isn’t the right to share that content inherent in the very “asking”? Why be grabby?

Facebook is being content greedy. It’s commandeering more than it needs to run the service. An example Zuckerburg uses in the post concerns the text of a messages sent between friends. If one user deactivates his or her account, a copy of each message will still exist in the other friend’s inbox. Fine. I see the point. So get a license to store and display a copy of private messages. There’s no problem with that.

The bigger rub comes with photos and video users upload. Why does Facebook need a perpetual license for that? I don’t see any reason, whether from a technological or other practical standpoint, why photos and video could not or should not be deleted — and the license to Facebook terminated — when a user deactivates his or her account. YouTube doesn’t demand a license for content after it has been taken down by a user.

Zuckerburg’s post contains the following interesting statement: “In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want.” Okay Mark, let’s talk about reality. I don’t want you using information about me, like my name, for commercial purposes. That’s reality. Why then do you demand to have the right to use my name and other information for commercial purposes? Are you suggesting that the terms of service as now written don’t reflect reality? I know they were written by lawyers, but surely your legal counsel can’t be that removed from the real world.

I like Facebook, and through it I have reconnected with old friends and made some new ones. But those connections are what’s important, not the intermediary. I may delete my photos off of there but I’ll probably keep using it, at least for now. But I’ll likely post less content. Shame on you, Facebook, and shame on you Mark Zuckerburg, for putting up a post just filled with platitudes, all while ignoring the fact there’s no reason for your new overreaching. That kind of stunt will invigorate those who want an alternative to Facebook, and will accellerate the process of making Facebook tomorrow’s Friendster.

Greedy photo courtesy Flickr user Gribiche under this Creative Commons license.


  1. As an archaic non-facebook user, I wonder about the significance of this phrase from the above quoted TOS:

    Any User Content you …"subject only to your privacy settings…"

    If only specific friends are allowed to view content wouldn't that limit FB's all-your-work-are-belong-to-us license?

  2. Good observation Chris. I read this "subject only to your privacy settings" to be a limitation on the copyright license FB claims, not a limitation on the right of FB to exploit your right of publicity. Moreover, who's to say that when you delete your account, there won't be any privacy settings anymore, so FB is free then to use your copyright-protected content in any way it wants?

  3. I read through the terms quickly and came to the same head-scratching conclusion you guys did. I think the terms could / should be clearer on this point.

    Zuckerberg made public statements to the effect that the privacy settings operate as a limit but it's not clear the limit applies to the content or the personality rights.

  4. I agree with Venkat – your conclusion and head-scratching is right on. Didn't FB learn something with the Beacon debacle? While I think FB has some really fun and useful qualities, the privacy issues always have concerned me and knowing they can and will change their terms on a dime, is even more concerning.

    I wonder how many users feel helpless because they know if they delete their accounts they will lose all that history and work they put into creating essentially a journal of their activities, messages, and photos? Maybe a crafty developer out there needs to create an app that will (with the user's permission) pull a user's content off of FB so the user can save it in the event the user decides to delete her account… If such a tool/app existed, FB might be more careful about how it treats user content knowing that its users have a readily available option of leaving FB without losing all their work.

  5. That is pretty crazy i just think that facebook will end up like myspace which is now lame and wither away in obscurity.

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