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Users warned on FB copyright terms

29 February 2012, 08:30 Duncan Alfreds

Cape Town - Users of social networks should be aware of how the terms and conditions of the platforms treat intellectual property, an industry insider has said.

Facebook has more than 850 million users around the world and they use the cloud platform to store everything from family photographs to typed documents.

"We put all our lovely photographs - and maybe if we're a professional photographer - we put some really good pictures into Facebook. If you read the fine print, it is owned by Facebook," Malcolm Rabson, Managing Director of Dariel Solutions told News24.

In Facebook's terms of service document, the company says that it shares users' intellectual property rights to content on the network.

"For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos [IP content], you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP Licence)," says paragraph 1.

User information

The document adds that these rights lapse when an account is disabled, but given that even disabled accounts can be reactivated months after a user deletes them, it is unclear how long Facebook will keep user information.

Users who, for example, write the manuscript for a book on Facebook, may find that the company demands a slice of the royalties if the book is a publishing success.

"Should it become a world seller, they are entitled to sue you for copyright infringement," Rabson said.

Users don't realise that Facebook is a public platform, regardless of privacy settings, an expert said.

"Whatever they say on a social media platform, they must be prepared and able to say with a megaphone to a crowd because that is essentially what you're doing," social media consultant for Afrosocialmedia Samantha Fleming told News24.

She said that the social media giant's privacy settings did not mean that content not intended for public view would remain so.

"Obviously, Facebook has drawn back a bit in the last couple of years, but the reality is that what you put out there can be seen by anybody," Fleming said.

Nude pictures

Recently, a US photographer was ordered to post an apology to his ex-wife on his Facebook page after he was found guilty of contravening a protection order.

He had posted a note that implied his ex-wife was out to ruin his life and though she was blocked from viewing his Facebook wall, she learnt of the post.

South African socialite Khanyi Mbau has been mired in controversy since nude pictures of her were leaked online, reminiscent of the scandal involving New York congressman Anthony Weiner who tweeted a sexually suggestive picture of himself.

Rabson said that Facebook could justify its ownership share of intellectual property because it provides a free service to consumers.

"They're saying 'We are giving you a service; we are giving you unlimited disk space to keep your photographs and anything like that,' and really, the reason you're putting it there is not for commercial gain."

There have not been recorded incidents of Facebook suing over a user's intellectual property, but as people increasingly use Facebook and other platforms to store documents, especially to collaborate with colleagues, it becomes more important that users are aware of laws relating to copyright.

"There are a lot of copyright laws around these things that people are not aware of," said Rabson.

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