Content ownership – the biggest myth online?

.Net magazine have a good series where they pose a question to various online professionals. Their latest one is on ‘The biggest myths online’. The answers are interesting (though to be taken with a pinch of salt, given that these are experts reasonably enough suggesting that the biggest risks online relate to their own areas of expertise).

In particular, the answer of  Ben Dyer (director of product development at Actinic) was interesting:

“The biggest online myth is also a huge ticking time bomb: data ownership. Even today there is a naive assumption that we own our online data. If you’re using web applications, especially in a SaaS (Software as a Service) environment you really might want to read the small print. Even if you’re paying for online services you may still have little protection.

Without sounding alarmist, often you are signing your rights away without realising it. The classic example is the recent Facebook Terms of Use debacle. The original alterations granted Facebook an irrevocable worldwide licence to use your data as it saw fit. Facebook’s reaction was immediate and excellent, but faced with the potential wrath of 175million active users it didn’t really have a choice.”

It’s increasingly common, given the free, fast, and useful nature of networks like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter (and countless others) to see writers, artists, musicians and small businesses skipping the route of setting up their own website in favour having a couple of social network profiles.

The danger to this approach lies precisely in control. What do you do if, tomorrow morning – after months of hard networking and building up your profile – you find your account suspended?  Have you read the Terms of Service for the given platform? Are you sure you’re not in breach? 

What about another scenario: You have your most important social network profile, and you add some important content that you’ve produced – a song, a first chapter, product news etc.  Where do you stand with copyright?Are you unwittingly handing over a licence to that platform to reproduce your valuable content throughout the network free of charge? When you upload content to a social network platform, you agree to their terms and conditions – while when you load it up to your own site you can set the conditions under which it is reproduced

Social networks are a vital part of any online presence, but in most cases using them without the firm foundation of your own website is like building castles in the air.

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