Facebook and copyright

For some time now, a self-proclaimed “legal notice” has been circulating on Facebook which purports to prevent Facebook, government agencies and others from invading the user’s privacy by accessing their photos, status updates and other such data. It resurfaces every other year or so, and as Snopes points out, the notice is actually pretty useless; whatever rights Facebook claims to have on your stuff, they got when you agreed to the terms of use when you signed up.

As somebody once said, the lie most often told these days is “I have read and agree to the terms of use.” This is true of software, websites, online purchases, pretty much anything you can do by clicking a box on your monitor. Nobody ever reads the user agreements. Generally, the companies make it really hard to do so, usually through typography tricks; a wide paragraph of small type in all caps set in a narrow typeface will usually be enough to stop all but the most determined reader. Besides, what good would it do? When push comes to shove, their lawyer can beat up your lawyer, and these days intellectual property rights are almost entirely determined by which side can afford a longer fight. A big corporation can simply bury a small company under so many filings — discovery, motions, continuances, depositions, and so on — that they will eventually either surrender and give the big dog what he wants or go broke trying to fight. So there’s no point in reading the agreement; either you accept that Facebook can do whatever they want with whatever you post, or you don’t use the thing.

However, if you happen to be a creative sort, especially a creative professional, there is one thing you can and should do: host your own stuff on your own site. You can still post your pictures and art and whatnot to Facebook, but instead of uploading your pictures to their servers, upload it to your own and post a link to it on Facebook. This way, the only thing Facebook can claim any right to is the hyperlink to your site.

When I say “your own site,” I mean exactly that. Blogspot, Tumblr, Imgur, Flickr and Photobucket are NOT your sites. Any and all online hosting services (including various iterations of “The Cloud”) that give you space for free are essentially variations on the Facebook model. Everything you put on those services is uploaded with the understanding that the host site can do whatever they want with your stuff; you own it, but they automatically get a license to use it, built into the user agreement that you accepted when you signed up. Later, if they decide to change the rules, they can lock you out of your files, or charge you to access them, or just delete them. If they use something of yours, and somebody else claims it was copied from them, they will let you bear 100% of the responsibility for that. That’s the deal, and the only way around it is to not host your original work on any of these social media outlets. Host your original work on your own site, and link to it on your social media portals. If you must use the galleries and such at these sites, just use them for inconsequential things like party snapshots and lolcats.

It’s not that difficult to set up your own site. If you use WordPress for your management system, you can be up and running in under an hour. No matter what you want your site to do, there’s probably a WordPress plug-in that can do it. There are many other similar systems, but none of them have the wide variety of options or the community of support that WordPress has. It’s the new web standard, the most popular Content Management system, and the underlying program supporting about 18% of all websites.

Caveat: There are two versions of WordPress. WordPress.com is a hosted system similar to Blogspot, while WordPress.org is the source for downloading and installing the WordPress Content Managing System to your own website. The same concerns about Facebook apply to WordPress.com. Take a look at the terms of service:

By submitting Content to Automattic [owner of WordPress] for inclusion on your website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing, and promoting your blog.┬áThis license allows Automattic to make publicly-posted content available to third parties selected by Automattic (through the Automattic Firehose, for example) so that these third parties can analyze and distribute (but not publicly display) your content through their services. You also give other WordPress.com users permission to share your Content on other WordPress.com websites and add their own Content to it (aka to reblog your Content), so long as they use only a portion of your post and they give you credit as the original author by linking back to your website….

And that’s why you want to install WordPress on your own site rather than using their free hosted version.

A few years ago, I wrote a step-by-step tutorial for installing WordPress; it was intended for cartoonists wishing to create their own web-comic, but the basic steps are the same for most of the process. It’s a few years old now, but the basic process hasn’t changed, though some of the screenshots may have changed.

If you want to retain ownership of your stuff, instead of re-posting a meaningless “legal notice” that isn’t, set up your own site:

Amish to Website in Under an Hour – the Tutorial


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Social Media and Customer Service Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jellyfish

Over at Digiday, Curtis Silver looks at the wisdom of responding to customer service issues in public via social media.

Digiday: Customer Service and Social Media

SPOILER: It’s generally a bad idea.

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