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Tom Head

The Trouble with Facebook (or not)

By November 28, 2012

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Facebook has a good record on some issues, and a spottier record on others. When it comes to privacy, Facebook isn't all that great--but when it comes to protecting users' copyrighted content, it's ahead of the curve.

So it came as a surprise to me to see a Facebook "copyright notice" hoax making the rounds. Putting aside the fact that a status update can't revoke the terms of service by which the status update itself is distributed, I'm trying to figure out why anyone thinks Facebook shouldn't have a non-exclusive, revocable right to distribute their content, since we are specifically using Facebook as a medium to non-exclusively, revocably distribute what we post. If I write a status update, I want to give Facebook permission to redistribute it--otherwise, none of my friends can read it--and if I didn't give them that permission, I could arguably post a status update and then sue them for copying it to friends' news feeds.

Facebook users should make sure that the site's decisionmaking process remains democratic, and push for more privacy options--but it makes very little sense to protest against a company's decision to legally protect its option to redistribute content if redistribution of content is the primary function that company serves. We don't complain if a car moves when you press down on the gas pedal or a radio makes noise when you turn it on, and we shouldn't complain that a web service designed to redistribute what we write does, in fact, perform as advertised.

Related: History of Copyright

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