Copyright laws are designed to “promote the progress of science and useful arts (Madison Article I, Section 8).” Many everyday websites are attempting to do just this. However, they seem to consistently fall short of the noble goal articulated in the constitution due copyright wars resulting from our modern culture and technology. Stumbleupon.com, which has a mission to provide users with individualized internet content based on a profile of interests each member creates is, on the surface, a fun and unique way to discover one’s interests on the Internet. Buried under the website’s thousands of pages of poetry, photography, music, recipes, and more, there is secret and binding literature, the terms of service agreement.
When reading through Stumbleupon.com’s terms of service, one can see traces of the power struggle depicted in William Patry’s chapter, “How the Copyright Wars are Being Fought and Why.” In the section labeled “Term,” Stumbleupon.com clearly reserves the right to ”restrict, deactivate, or terminate your account for any reason” (StumbleUpon). This statement gives the company more power than its users, sharply contradicting my first impression of the sight as an individualized cultural discovery provider, focused on catering to its users interests. This concept of a company’s power over the customer can be seen especially clearly in the South Park episode “HumancentiPad,” where Eric blindly agrees to Apple’s terms of service, subsequently signing his life away. This episode does a painfully wonderful job of depicting the power we as customers give service providers by clicking “agree.”
Companies and service providers such as Stumbleupon.com and Apple are known for their popularity among consumers and reputation for being caterers of customer desires. This is humorously echoed in the South Park episode by character Kyle Broflovski when he says, “everybody knows that everything but apple is stupid!” (Parker). However, upon reading the terms of service and watching the “HumancentiPad,” a new side of these companies was revealed to me, a side that mirrors William Patry’s claims of what the copyright war is, a struggle for power. While Stumbleupon.com makes it clear in their terms of service literature that the “services are made available to you for your non-commercial use only,” (StumbleUpon Section 7, f) it is not without the stipulations discussed above. Through the implementation of their terms of service, both Stumbleupon.com and Apple are limiting consumers’ rights in what users can do with the cultural content they obtain through services provided by these two companies.
By recognizing the fact that very few users actually read the terms of service material, companies like Apple and Stumbleupon.com are secretly in control of their customers’ rights. Users are under the impression that these two companies are all about giving customers exactly what they want and creating an environment of free-flowing and available culture, a consumer’s euphoria. To some extent they are, but what customers fail to realize is that company policy is a juxtaposition of the outward appearances they advertise and is often swept under the rug by the simple click of the “agree” button.
Madison, James. United States. Constitution of the United States. Philadelphia: , 1787. Web. <http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html>.
Patry, William. “How the Copyright Wars are Being Fought and Why.” Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford, 2009. 1-41. Print.
Parker, Trey, dir. “HumancentiPad.” Writ. Matt Stone. South Park. Comedy Central: 27 Apr 2011. Television. <http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s15e01-humancentipad>.
“StumbleUpon Terms of Service.” StumbleUpon. N.p., 27 Jul. 2011. Web. 6 Sep 2012. <http://www.stumbleupon.com/terms>.