It’s the engine that drives Web 2.0, and yet 99% of us make no money directly from it (which isn’t a bad thing). However, the companies that have created the online tools and platforms that have facilitated the social media “revolution” want to leverage our content in order to pay the bills. That’s when things start to get interesting.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, reminded by something that no one but the most determined of fine-print readers knows: YouTube’s Terms of Use basically give them the right to use any and all uploaded content in whichever way they choose. Exhibit A:

By submitting the User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

They take great pains to emphasize that “For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions,” but let’s be honest, the above license grants YouTube equal ownership in everything but name.

Exhibit B: Blogger is out of Beta (terms below): But this isn’t a very good example. It’s been pointed out to me that these terms are necessary for the execution of the services provided, similar to MySpace’s terms, which are explained thusly:

Without this license, would be unable to provide the MySpace Services. For example, without the right to modify Member Content, would not be able to digitally compress music files that Members submit or otherwise format Content to satisfy technical requirements, and without the right to publicly perform Member Content, could not allow Users to listen to music posted by Members. The license you grant to is non-exclusive (meaning you are free to license your Content to anyone else in addition to, fully-paid and royalty-free (meaning that is not required to pay you for the use on the MySpace Services of the Content that you post), sublicensable (so that is able to use its affiliates and subcontractors such as Internet content delivery networks to provide the MySpace Services), and worldwide (because the Internet and the MySpace Services are global in reach). This license will terminate at the time you remove your Content from the MySpace Services. The license does not grant the right to sell your Content, nor does the license grant the right to distribute your Content outside of the MySpace Services

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying and distributing Google services. The new Terms also state that if you have posted your material under, for example, a Creative Commons license, Google has the right to ignore that and exercise their rights as granted under the abovementioned Terms.

Exhibit C: Facebook’s Terms of Use are similarly all-encompassing:

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

Thankfully, once you remove your content, Facebook can’t use it anymore.

The brand new model of social media and Web 2.0 is smashing up against the “old” model of business, and business has better lawyers. The front end is new, but the back end? Same as it ever was.

This also reminds me of something Misha Glouberman, an old friend of mine, wrote about how the digital age would affect copyright (incidentally, he also kind of came up with the idea of the wiki in 1996). Misha figured that copyright, or our existing notion of it, would cease to be enforceable with the advent of digital reproduction, so it would essentially no longer matter. However, I think Misha figured that would be a bottom-up thing, that individuals would no longer observe the copyrights held by companies, not that companies would use technology to lever copyrights out of the hands of individuals.

In the discussion that was the precursor to this post, David Tebbut suggested setting up a wiki to compile the best and the worst of the “Your Content” portion of the world’s online Terms of Use. To that end, I have purchased two domains, and/or Thoughts on which would be better to use? If there are any interested parties out there who can do the heavy technical lifting to set up the wiki, email me at: maggie [at] social media group [dot] ca. I can take care of hosting.


  1. Maggie:
    The Blogger license, as I understand it (standard disclaimer about not being a lawyer applies) is so they may publish – ie. render a web page – your content where it needs to be published, and in the forms of publishing you request. For example, in a blogger template, a mobile version of same, an ATOM or RSS feed. If you didn’t grant them this ability, they couldn’t do what you’ve asked them to do – host and publish your blog and feeds associated with the same.
    I found this out when I had a similar problem with terms from MSN spaces, and asked a similar question. I can’t find the reply at this point.

  2. You know what, Howard? I think you’re right on that one – I will publish an update. MySpace has similar terms, and they explain why. I’ll include that.

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