Watching the news and CNN had a piece on the tornado that went through Tennessee last night. The anchorwoman then introduced some pictures from “Facebook” (entertainingly, she said it in exactly the same way my grandmother used to say the word “Internet” — like she was experimenting with a whole new mysterious language.) She recounted how students from Union University in Jackson had been uploading pictures of their experience of being in the storm to their Facebook group — and then showed a few pictures that had been uploaded.
Here was what caught my eye: alongside each image was a little caption crediting Facebook. Not the individual photographer. Not Union University. Not even Union University and Facebook. Just Facebook. And that got me thinking — and digging into Facebook’s fine print.
Given media -- and consumer -- interest in first-hand, on-the-scene accounts of news events, and the inability of media outlets to ensure that they have someone on the ground at every place of interest in the world at all times, "citizen" content has been steadily growing in importance. There are plenty of separate discussions to be had about the ramifications of this trend, but essentially it adds a fantastic new dimension to news coverage. But it should be used in a responsible way. And by that I mean responsible to its originators.
Do people uploading images to their Facebook network realize that, while they retain ownership of their content, they are also allowing Facebook to use the content, too? In whatever way it sees fit. Which could be, say, to sell it to media outlets looking for on-the-scene, first-hand accounts of news events. And once CNN anchors and their ilk have become a little more familiar with what Facebook is and stopped treating the social network as if it were newsworthy in its own right, they'll also stop making a big deal of where the images came from, and just integrate them into their wider reporting. With Facebook getting the credit -- and fees.
"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."
Discount the legalese and think about the consequences here. Should it choose to, Facebook could become an uber-image agency, selling images of culture, fashion, news, events, for every occasion, each one handily tagged by its original owner. It'd take some organization, sure, but it wouldn't have to pay a penny for any of its content, which would be supplied freely by its millions of members. It could put Facebook in the newswire game as a hefty competitor to the Reuters and APs of the world.
I had a quick scout round two other photo resources: Yahoo's Flickr and Google's Picasa. Neither seemed to go into who owns the images (though I could have missed it -- those pages of fine print don't half send you all over the place). But Google seems more worried that I'm going to try and commercialize its software (unlikely), while Yahoo/Flickr had a clear statement, easily accessible from every page: "Yahoo! respects the intellectual property of others, and we ask our users to do the same." This last in particular seems so much more respectful and open than Facebook's approach. Don't you think?
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