Kashmir Hill pointed out that at least one erstwhile file sharing service has changed its business model in response to the federal government’s action against Megaupload. She observes that:
FileSonic users can’t be too happy to have one of the main features of the site taken away. But the company must be less worried about its breach of contract with existing users than it is about the possibility of getting the Megaupload treatment, i.e., arrest, seizure of its property, and a criminal indictment.
This raises an important point. Any kind of online service that pushes the legal envelope may want to build in some mechanisms to pull back with impunity if it gets freaked out or loses its envelope-pushing courage. Said another way, that service should not make promises to its users that it cannot keep in the event the service wants to change what it is doing.
Some well known user generated content sites do this pretty well already in their terms of service. For example:
- Dropbox: “We reserve the right to suspend or end the Services at any time, with or without cause, and with or without notice.”
- “YouTube reserves the right to discontinue any aspect of the Service at any time.”
- Reddit: “We also reserve the right to discontinue the Program, or change the content or formatting of the Program, at any time without notice to you, and to require the immediate cessation of any specific use of the Program.”
- Facebook (being kind of vague): “If you . . . create risk or possible legal exposure for us, we can stop providing all or part of Facebook to you.”
All good examples of foresight in drafting website terms and conditions that help innovative sites with damage control.