Facebook: Are The Old Terms Really That Great?

February 25, 2009

By Jonathan Cohen:
Last week, the Consumer Warning Network reported on Facebook’s hasty retreat to its original terms of use after users raised a ruckus about recent revisions. The revisions in question would have permitted Facebook to retain and use content posted by users after they terminated their accounts. While the reinstatement of Facebook’s old terms of use has been celebrated as a grassroots victory across the blogosphere, CWN poses the question: are the old terms really so great?

A review of the old terms of use reveals that the provision that angered users over the past few weeks — Facebook’s right to use content posted by you — is very much a part of the old terms. Following is the relevant portion of the old reinstated terms of use:

“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, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, 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.”

In other words, under the old reinstated terms, as long as you remain a loyal Facebook user, the social networking behemoth has the right to use your content as it pleases. So to all the artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and writers out there, consider yourselves warned. If your posted work is desirable enough to warrant commercial use, Facebook might just take it and use it.

And whether you realize it or not, you gave them permission to do so when activating your Facebook account. For those of you posting family photos, don’t be surprised if that adorable picture from your little girl’s birthday party ends up in a banner ad for Facebook.

To summarize, the only significant difference between the old and recently-retracted new terms is that under the old terms, Facebook’s right to do whatever it likes with user-posted content ends when you terminate your account. As previously reported on this site, Facebook has invited users to share their thoughts and participate in the development of the new terms of use. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head over to Facebook and delete all of my posted photos except the ugly and blurry ones.