Facebook Owns You

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Does Facebook, now with more than 175 million users worldwide, have a content death wish? Perhaps.

Just read its newest terms of service. What you'll find is that all content posted at Facebook belongs to, well, Facebook. But it's worse than that. New phrasing makes clear that, even if you leave Facebook, your rights don't leave with you. Quoting:

The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other. [Emphasis added.]

To be fair, Facebook officially is asking only for a "non-exclusive license" to your creations hosted at its site. I can understand that. Facebook isn't a publication and posting original writing there shouldn't result in royalty checks.

Claiming permanent dominion is another matter entirely. This move would position Facebook as a content owner a la New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT  ) , Washington Post (NYSE: WPO  ) , or Gannett (NYSE: GCI  ) , rather than as a service provider a la Twitter, which doesn't claim content rights. That's, at best, insipid.

Think about it. If, like News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace, Facebook's business is advertising, and advertisers are only interested in reachable audiences, former Facebookers are irrelevant to its business.

Even Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , another ad-driven business that specifies similar terms in its usage policy, recognizes limits to its rights to content. "This license 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," the policy reads.

Facebook, for its part, responded with a blog post from CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Quoting:

When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created -- one in the person's sent messages box and the other in their friend's inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear. In reality, we wouldn't share your information in a way you wouldn't want. [Emphasis added.]

OK, but I'm not sure that's the point. What is? I should own my content, Facebook, not you. When I'm gone, my content should come with me. So archive if you must, but don't claim rights to distribute and profit from the archive -- it isn't yours to profit from.

More Foolishness about Facebook:

Google is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Try this Foolish service free for 30 days. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy likes caffeine a little too much at times.

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