Why it’s important to “own” your content

I’m connecting the dots between two otherwise unrelated items that were in my Google Reader inbox this morning.

  1. Random Mind: USC Film Students Fight Back
  2. Dave Tosh: Data Ownership

The first article is about students at USC Film School realizing that the copyright for their student films belongs to USC. Which means they can’t do things like post their work to YouTube, or enter them at Sundance (without first going through channels to get approval from USC). I’m assuming that USC asserts copyright over student works because there might be a chance to monetize – it is Film, after all. Are there other examples of schools asserting copyright over student works? Why hasn’t this been flagged as an issue before this?

The second article is about data ownership and privacy wrt Facebook. Facebook owns everything that goes on, and in, Facebook. Because they own the whole widget, soup to nuts, they get to control what happens to and with our data. They can decide to expose, aggregate, process, and sell our data to third parties. It’s not really a free service.

Both articles emphasize the importance of owning your content and data. In an environment where you retain copyright for your own creations (ideally, sharing with something like a CreativeCommons license), you get to decide what you can do with your own stuff. Extend that to an environment where you are in control of your own personal data (or identity). OpenID and Sxip are both steps in the right direction there.

The bottom line is, when you give up ownership of your own content and data, you lose freedom.

8 thoughts on “Why it’s important to “own” your content”

  1. Well, I wonder if copyright circumvention isn’t the way out at times. While generally I have no problem with FB “owning” my content because I don’t place anything of ‘high’ value in it – and my interests, wall posts, etc., are just demographics I’m willing to exchange in lieu for the service that FB provides….
    Still, oftentimes I _repost_ content to FB that has prior copyright on it – either full copyright in case of pictures / academic articles, or Creative Commons Sharealike-NonComm-Der license. I admit, I know fairly little about IP law, _but_ from what I remember, unless explicitly granted on a per-case basis, primary copyright would in that case belong to me.
    If I follow that line of thought, should FB try to explicitly infringe upon the intellectual value of my profile (i.e. selling an academic paper I published using its framework without paying me royalty as opposed to simply making money off my adclicks based on ads served contextually to me using my profile as source of demographic data) – I am quite certain I’d happily take FB to court to see what would happen.
    Any thoughts, D’Arcy?

  2. @Thomas: I’m not sure. That’s a pretty open grey area – republishing an existing work could be interpreted to be re-releasing it under a different license – would cross-posting a CC-licensed blog entry into Facebook mean that FB “owns” the republished version? I don’t know, and that makes me nervous. That said, I’m still republishing all of my blog entries to FB because there are a fair number of people there that I know, who may not be RSS readers. There is value to the service, but what is the cost?

  3. Hmm, it’d be handy to know a good IP lawyer just about now 😉 While re-releasing under a different license sounds highly suspicious and would also make me worry, it presents an interesting IP dilemma. Say someone started stealing your articles… does a) Facebook go after them for violating their copyright, or b) do you go after them for lack of attribution and then, could they tell FB that they’re simply quoting your article and FB has no basis for legal action, thus having been at most forced to attribute the article to you…. I could think of several variations of this.
    Anyway, I’m hoping that the likes of OpenID will sooner or later bring about a fully independent social networking solution that will allow for something akin to FB, but where the end user actually owns the content and their own privacy settings. Combine that with an open JSON API framework and the Open Source community will happily adapt the project.

  4. @Thomas: I’m seriously considering shutting down my FB account. Except that it’s been absolutely amazing in reconnecting me with long lost childhood friends and the like… I need to think a bit more about the implications of content (re)publishing, and how many eggs I’m comfortable having in one basket. Or who’s basket I’d be comfortable using…

  5. Yes, that is one of its appeals – I too have found some long lost friends – one actually whom I’ve been trying to track down for years (and it was one of the best reunions ever, virtual or real). And even now, having reached the sweet spot of having most people I care about tied into my account, I get the odd friend request once every week or two which in most cases turns out to be a rather pleasant surprise.
    And I’ve seen people come to FB and go, freaked out about its ‘snooping’ abilities, privacy concerns, ownership issues. I’ve thought of leaving once too, but then the application foundation was added and I saw an inkling of something great, something that might keep FB alive if they do things right, after the entire Web 2.0 hype dies down. Still, I also think it will be superseded by something more open, so unless they change their business model (or Google buys it and changes it for them), it’s a temporary platform for me.
    One thing that FB does well, hands down, is content distribution. Even my supertweaked, Yahoo-Piped, netvibes-channeled RSS content, nor my Plaxo-enhanced personal CRM package, can produce such acutely and PASSIVELY distributed content that’s directly fed to all of my friends, associates, etc. I don’t blog much as I can’t seem to make much time for it. And yet the notes I post into my FB account (directly from the blog), usually generate about 10x more feedback/discussion/forwarding. That’s hard to beat.

  6. One of the biggest problems with institutional ownership of individually-authored materials (whether that’s student materials or faculty materials) is that it limits freedom and imagination.

    I truly do understand the institution’s stake in this argument to a degree: they provide the environment, the materials, the resources, etc, and therefore they are entitled to reap the benefits of their investment. But there needs to be a way out. There needs to be a way, either at the beginning of the project as a declaration, or at the end of the project as a proposal process, for individuals to claim their own either shared or exclusive rights to the materials that they too invested in. I’m less interested in circumventing then in coming to a compromise type agreement.

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