Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Facebook considered dangerous?

Note to Facebook readers from my “Notes” section. If there are updates to this post, you won’t ever see them on Facebook. Instead, go to my blog directly, as updates will appear as they are made. I'm at

How many of you have been following the recent debate (firestorm) over Facebook and its new Terms of Service (TOS) – recently rolled back but soon to reappear? I’ve been concerned about Facebook for a while, and this latest news gives me even more to worry about.

Not many of us, including me, read over those TOS when they pop up (often as just a link) when we sign up for something. But maybe we should be taking them more seriously.

You see, in the Facebook TOS it says, even now:

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 licence (with the right to sublicence) 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 authorise sublicences of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the licence granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

In essence, Facebook says if you post content here, we can use it however we want, and you’ve already agreed that that is “A- OK”.

Is it?

Is it “A-OK” with you that your images might appear in an advertisement, or a flyer, or anywhere else without your previous knowledge or permission?

According to Facebook, you’ve already agreed that it is, and you’ve also agreed that you will receive no compensation for the use of those images.

Now, the good thing (if there is a good thing) with this is that last sentence in the TOS. It says if you take stuff down from your Facebook site, the license that allows Facebook to use that stuff expires.

But… a couple of weeks ago, that last bit vanished. Gone. Now, by becoming a Facebook user, you’d granted permanent license to Facebook. Forever.

Didn’t they need to tell you that? Nope. You’ve also agreed that they don’t. It’s your responsibility, under the TOS, to keep checking the TOS in case they’ve changed anything.

Under considerable pressure from the Facebook community, Facebook has reverted to the former TOS. But even its CEO states that this is temporary.

Did I just hear you say, “Oh, crap! That’s bullsh!t?"

I think I did. Or perhaps that was me saying it again. I’ve been saying it a lot.

So, fellow artists. What to do?

Many of us, particularly artists, just might want to reconsider how we’re using Facebook. And there are a couple of excellent options that I’m going to outline below.

If you now store images in your Facebook account and want to continue to do so, start by taking all your images down while Facebook is still operating under the old (current) TOS. As soon as you do that, the Facebook license expires on those images.

Now, for any image you wish to put back on Facebook, do this:

Resize your image to no more than 500 pixels wide. This makes the image unusable for anything but the web. At 300 dpi (printing standard) it makes a print about 1 21/32 inches wide. Remarkably useless. Now, put a watermark or text on the image. Put a copyright, and a date, and your name. If you have a website, put that on it too.

You see, Facebook will accept images up to 5 megabytes (5 MB). When you load up an image at that size, or close to it, that’s what you give them to use – a big image with lots of detail – just fine for printing in any number of ways.

However, if you reduce the size before you upload, you give them much, much less. Indeed, an image properly reduced, and saved as a jpg file, should be about 100 kilobytes (100 KB) or 1/10th of a megabyte. It’ll also upload much, much faster.

Now your reduced, watermarked image can be uploaded to your Facebook account. It is suitable for viewing by your friends, family and followers but has been rendered pretty useless to Facebook overseers. Or anyone else for that matter.

You don’t want your images ripped off Facebook and used for anything other that what you allow… do you?

Almost any contemporary computer will have some software on it that will allow you to do what I’ve described. You do not need Photoshop to do this. If you don’t know how to do this, ask a friend or colleague. Unfortunately, lessons in how to do the photo editing are beyond the scope of this blog.

What are your other options if you don’t want to put anything back onto Facebook?

Why don’t you consider using on online photo/image sharing organizations like Flickr or Picasa? Facebook does let you “link” to other sites (making your links outside the scope of its TOS) and you can create galleries there, and link to them from your Facebook account.

What do these organizations have to say in their TOS?

Flickr, which is owned by Yahoo!, states (and this is actually in the Yahoo! TOS):

With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services other than Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo! Services solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo! Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Yahoo! Services.

Is there a difference? There is. You’ll notice no mention of commercial use, instead, it says “…solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available.”

Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m reasonably sure this means that they can do all of the above in the context of this being a photo sharing service. They can share your photos, since you’ve uploaded them to share. If you delete them, it’s over. And no permanent archive.

Picasa Web Albums TOS (Google) is a little less friendly. It says:

11. Content licence from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this licence includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this licence shall permit Google to take these actions.

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above licence.

Granted, 11.1 sounds a lot like Flickr… but 11.2 is a little disconcerting. Furtherdown you’ll see that you have to terminate the terms in writing and:

13.5 When these Terms come to an end, all of the legal rights, obligations and liabilities that you and Google have benefited from, been subject to (or which have accrued over time whilst the Terms have been in force) or which are expressed to continue indefinitely, shall be unaffected by this cessation, and the provisions of paragraph 20.7 shall continue to apply to such rights, obligations and liabilities indefinitely.

– which seems to say the legal rights never end anyway.

So Flickr seems the safest bet (with its current TOS). I was going to mentionPhotobucket but a quick look at its TOS reveals such things as:

“including without limitation, via the Site or third party websites or applications (for example, services allowing Users to order prints of Content or t-shirts and similar items containing Content).”

which is pretty bad. There may be other photo sharing networks with even better TOS (for you). Please feel free to send them and I’ll update this blog post with the new information.

If you go the Flickr (or other) route, make sure you “link” your Facebook account to your images, or galleries of images (probably your best bet) on a regular basis and include your public Flickr (or other) address in your Facebook profile.

You might even want to create an image to stick in your Facebook Photos section that simply has the text “My images are now all at [your account address].” That way, someone looking for your photos will get a clue as to where to find them.

The very best option would be to have your own website and host your images there. You can post your own copyright messages and retain all rights yourself.

Then, you can “link” as above, these images or galleries into your Facebook profile. Do it regularly, as in when you add new images, and your Facebook followers will get a steady diet of your art and images.

Is Facebook is dangerous, especially if you are an artist? I believe this to be so unless you take the proper precautions.

Should you go through all the trouble of doing something about it? You probably should. After all, you’re not in the business of giving your art away for free.