Course blog for CSP 11 (Fall 2012) @ Occidental College

Tag Archives: facebook

If you asked any random person on the street what they thought the purpose of copyright is, they’d probably assert that copyright is designed to protect the rights of artists. William Patry, author of Moral Panics and Copyright Wars, disagrees. Patry believes that copyright is a tool used by so called “copyright industries” to wage war against their consumers. Patry argues that the modern use of copyright is a symptom of “push marketing”: “With push marketing, businesses create products or services based on what they want to sell to consumers and not based on what consumers want to buy” (5). This kind of push marketing is very apparent in the modern music industry, which constantly resists changes in music mediums. “This is what occurred with the record industry’s refusal to move to MP3 single-song sales, long after it was apparent to rational observers that the CD market was exhausted” (4). Push marketing as Patry describes it is detrimental to progress and resists free market ideals, in particular the invisible hand. Patry argues that the industry needs to move to a pull market, in which consumers and “collaboration, not control” drive the marketing of copyrighted works (7).

Since Patry’s argument is based primarily in the domain of economics, one would assume that a company such as Facebook that provides a service free of charge would have little use for the waging of copyright wars. But while Facebook generally does not revolve around the creation and sharing of creative works, it’s easy to forget that photos and videos uploaded can be considered “intellectual property”. Facebook has a somewhat disturbing approach to intellectual property, as stated in their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities: “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 license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.” Facebook essentially has the right to use your photos and videos for whatever nefarious purposes they can think of. This becomes even more frightening when it becomes clear how little privacy really exists on Facebook: “When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you.  We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information. ” While users do have the right to resist this intrusion, I doubt that many users consider the possible repercussions of playing “FarmVille”. As Kyle Brovlofski so tactuflly stated in the South Park episode “Human CentiPad”, “Who the hell reads that entire thing every time it pops up?”

It would appear that Facebook is engaging in (or at least has the ability to engage in) borderline Orwellian surveillance of its users that one might think is illegal. But in actuality, Facebook is well within its rights when it does whatever it does with your intellectual property, because the user clicked “agree” when signing up with Facebook. Facebook can also change this contract whenever it chooses: “We can change this Statement if we provide you notice (by posting the change on the Facebook Site Governance Page) and an opportunity to comment.  To get notice of any future changes to this Statement, visit our Facebook Site Governance Page and “like” the Page,” and the only way to recieve notice is to make the effort to like a Facebook page which, up until now, I didn’t even know existed. The little power that Facebook gives to its users “If more than 7,000 users post a substantive comment on a particular proposed change, we will also give you the opportunity to participate in a vote in which you will be provided alternatives. The vote shall be binding on us if more than 30% of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote,” does not bring it anywhere close to the ideal “Pull Marketing” tactics described by Patry. The South Park episode “Human Cent-i-Pad” wasn’t too far off, if the Facebook terms of services said that they could sew my mouth to another human’s anus, it’s highly unlikely that I would know about it, and even less likely that I would be able to do anything about it.

Patry, William. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2009. Print.

“Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Facebook, 8 June 2012. Web. 08 Sept. 2012. 

Parker, Trey. “Humancentipad.” South Park. N.d. South Park Studios. South Park Studios. Web. 8 Sept. 2012.


The HumancentiPad could do everything except read, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with it. The intangibility of online user agreements causes people to be less concerned with the terms they are signing to.  I believe that the virtual reality of the Internet is what separates users from these agreements.  The speed at which the Internet runs also makes the few minutes it takes to read the terms seem like an eternity, especially when the accept button is so textually dominant over the terms.

Designed to be the ultimate personalization of the Internet, Facebook follows what William Patry describes as a pull business.  Facebook is a pull business because, “rather than seeking to constrain the range of resources available to participants, pull models constantly strive to expand it while helping participants, pull models give even people on the periphery tools and resources (including connections to other people) needed to take initiative and to address opportunities creatively as they arise” (Patry 7).  The aim of Facebook, as with most social networking sites, is to connect individuals on it to one another.  Wanting to be part of a greater group fueled by constant communication is what draws people to the site.  Facebook’s business model appears innovative by adapting to each individual consumer’s interests and having multiple means of communication available (wall post, chat, pictures, ect.).  Clicking the terms of agreement when signing up for Facebook is simply the price to pay to ensure you are not left out of the community the site creates.  People would much rather buy into Facebook and be a part of its personalized society than be critical of the various agreements they are signing themselves to by joining.   

In contrast to the more individualized practices of “pull” marketing, “push” marketing establishes a baseline strategy to get general consumers (as opposed to specified marketing to individuals) to buy into their product.  Patry argues that, “due to their push mentality, the copyright industries view the entirety of copyright as unidirectional: the public is a passive participant, whose role is to simply pay copyright owners, or to stop using copyrighted works“ (Patry 8).

 Even as a pull model, the language of Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” is extraordinarily convoluted.  The level of personalization that Facebook creates is a product of the rights they earn for their consumers’ identities through the agreement, so it is no wonder the language used is flexible.  Perhaps the best clause in their terms of agreement is, “we can change this Statement if we provide you notice (by posting the change on the Facebook Site Governance Page) and an opportunity to comment.  To get notice of any future changes to this Statement, visit our Facebook Site Governance Page and “like” the Page” (Sec.14, Pt. 1). If you are only notified of agreement changes if you like and get notifications from a particular page within the site, Facebook’s terms are subject to change without the direct notice of their general users (ie. those who do not read the fine print regularly).  The language used in this part of Facebook’s terms of agreement are analogous to Patry’s understanding of a pull model, as the terms are subject to change as the site changes.  Patry is pretty adamant in claiming that the copyright industry should be transformed into a pull business.  I am tempted to say that I would rather the law be rigid and commonly understood with respect to copyright than be ever changing and only relevant on a case by case basis, as through a pull system.  If the rules of copyright are ever changing to fit the individuals involved, like in the case of Facebook, is it necessarily better for the individual?

The power of Facebook’s agreement policy, like in the case of copyright law in general, comes from the uncertainty it creates.  Even if a Facebook user reads the terms they are inevitably going to agree to, the language the terms are formed on does not aid the consumer in having any idea what they are signing to.  Perhaps the reason we are so trained to not read user agreements is because we are used to the language being so extraordinarily indecisive.  Because we are preconditioned to think the terms will be vague and unhelpful to us, we don’t bother with them unless we absolutely have to, and even then we may just skim. 

 

Patry, William. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

“Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Facebook, 8 June 2012. Web. 08 Sept. 2012. <http://www.facebook.com/legal/terms&gt;