The blogosphere and the Twitterverse have been abuzz over the past few days with news of a change in the Terms of Service at Facebook. The old TOS ensured that the limited license that Facebook users grant to the company expired when user content was removed from the site. The new TOS eliminated that provision, making the license, in effect, perpetual.
The ensuing uproar (including some semi-hysterical misinterpretation, such as the notion that Facebook was claiming copyright on content), has been such that Facebook has now reversed its position, returning to the old TOS and inviting users to contribute ideas for a new revision.
The issues that caused the uproar are presented in detail in this post from the excellent Plagiarism Today blog. The author also notes something that I think is important:
I’ve noticed over the years that sites have become more and more aggressive about giving themselves rights in their TOS. Users, for the most part, haven’t noticed as the TOSs have grown in length and given the various sites new rights. This is especially true of all “user-generated content” sites.
Facebook’s license may be worrisome but it is far from alone and, in general, there has been little public interest in doing anything about it.
Below is Facebook's license language.
When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. 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. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.
The moral of this story: always, always read the fine print. Know what you're getting into, and if language like that quoted above disturbs you, don't use the site.