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October 28, 2005

Bubble 2.0 – Who Owns My Content?

Who else?  I do, of course.  Right?

Not so fast.  You only own YOUR content until you click OK on the EULA (End User License Agreement).  Or until you agree to the TOU (Terms of Use) or TOS (Terms of Service). And, admit it, you didn’t read the EULA, TOU, or TOS, did you?

You may not even own YOUR computer completely.  For example, if you use Skype, you have agreed that your computer and, by implication, your Internet connection can be used to help complete other people’s phone calls.

4.1 Permission to utilize Your computer. In order to receive the benefits provided by the Skype Software, You hereby grant permission for the Skype Software to utilize the processor and bandwidth of Your computer for the limited purpose of facilitating the communication between Skype Software users.”  From the Skype EULA.

That’s how Skype keeps its infrastructure costs down.  You share your computer; you get free calls to other Skype users.

If you have a free Flikr account, Yahoo, which owns Flikr, will display ads with your pictures. The deal, whether you read the terms or not, is that Flikr is providing storage space and bandwidth to access your pictures; you’re providing content to attract attention to their ads.

A bit more complicated than Skype or Flikr is who owns community-generated content, the bookmarks on del.icio.us, for example, or the tags on Technorati.  There is clear value in this aggregated content.  Who has a right to extract this value?  As users of these services, we clearly have the right to see the aggregated data – we wouldn’t use the services if we didn’t.  But the providers of the service, the owners of the platform, reserve the right to decide who can use the aggregated data in what form.  She who provides the platform writes the EULA.

What about content that we generate because we’re cooperative animals: entries on wikipedia, help in various forums? Is the good feeling or perhaps notoriety we get from these postings all the right that we have to them?

There’s a storm in the blogosphere over this ownership issue.  Some of the discussions spawned from USV Sessions have merged with this storm like Wilma did with the Nor’easter last week and there are some mighty gusts being generated.  Jeff Jarvis dives in deeply here at BuzzMachine.  Om Malik has been in on the discussion from the beginning with posts here and here (this one is a good reference to yet more posts).  Michael Parekh is his usual thoughtful self here and here.  Anil Dash from Six Apart (TypePad, MovableType) and Caterina Fake from Flikr are, not surprisingly, on opposite sides in the debate here and here.

There is a moral tone to much of the discussion.  Users SHOULD own all rights to their content.  Users are ENTITLED to share in any revenue generated from their content.  Platform providers have a RIGHT to profit from their platforms to any degree they choose.  Trust and transparency are moral issues as Jeff Jarvis rightly points out. But sharing the wealth, says I, is a business issue.

When we click OK on the EULA we make a deal.  We don’t have to upload pictures to Flikr.  We don’t have to bookmark with del.icio.us.  We don’t have to correct entries on wikipedia.  The providers of those services didn’t have to invest money to make those services available to us.  They wouldn’t have been able to raise money to provide us with platforms if someone didn’t believe that someday there would be a return on that capital – which certainly isn’t guaranteed.  We all make this deal voluntarily.

Google pays bloggers for clicks on ads on their sites (including this one).  They don’t do a very good job of selecting ads and I don’t think they pay enough; but I haven’t thrown them off yet.  Amazon does a better job of paying websites which generate sales; I’m pretty sure I’ll keep them until someone offers a better deal.

If there’s a market for a service which pays the providers of pictures for the ad revenue generated by that content, someone ought to offer that service – probably will in fact.  Is there a market for a service which pays a cash benefit for bookmarking?  Maybe.  The only way we’ll know is if someone offers the service.  Point is these are business issues.  But we may literally be fighting over pennies.

The debate doesn’t seem to start until the service provider seeks to monetize the service.  Wikipedia doesn’t so not much argument there yet.  Flikr does so there is an argument.

Where it really gets interesting – again thanks to Jeff Jarvis – is when we talk about more than the money.  Who has the right to control how the content and data I provide is used?  When do the interests of the service provider and the users come into conflict?  Stay tuned for a post on that.

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