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Opinion: Who Owns The Content You Put On The Web?


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#1 cre8pc

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Posted 03 November 2011 - 02:01 PM

I was once told that the posts put here by forums members are essentially copyrighted content that belongs to you, and should the forums ever be sold, each member was owed $$ for their discussions.

This has bothered me for a long time. Of course, I disagree with that view. If that were true, forums would be paying for spam posts, blogs would be paying for spam comments as well as legit ones and the free publication of articles by permission of authors would die off into a currency exchange system.

Taken farther, some search engines are now indexing status's from social sites, and comments made in places like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. It's possible to run searches on phrases used in our comments and find them in search results (so I've read. Haven't tried this myself.)

Search engines are populated with the content people make, else they wouldn't exist at all. We're not paid for our content. Not paid for the articles we write, that are indexed by search engines and come in search results that display ads that search engines and advertisers generate income from. You and I never see a dime for a huge amount of the content we put online, be in our online photo albums to forum threads to customer feedback on products.

So what are your feelings? If you have poured out advice here at Cre8 or participated in the discussions with relevant and intelligent dialog, do you consider what you write to be something you own, and its not for sale?

#2 jonbey

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Posted 03 November 2011 - 02:30 PM

A tricky one indeed. But something I was thinking about the other day, sort of.

The reason why I am on the few forums that I am is to learn and share. A few years ago it was all learning but now I can contribute to the forums more. I see this as payback.

If I can charge you for the advice and comments I leave here then you should be able to charge me for all the benefit I have gained from reading and asking questions (don't get any ideas!).

In an ideal world (I think) if a forum such as this was going to shut down there would be an option to retrieve all personal comments so that you can put them to some use. I think that while the forum is alive my comments are part of this community (I guess legally the forum's / yours) but if it died I would like the option of having them back.

Maybe all forums should have the facility for users to download all their content (much like you can with Facebook and Google) so that in the event that it dies (or you get booted off for being too smelly) you still have your content.

When eye tracking technology is advanced enough you will be able to count how many words people read and then when they get to their threshold they will not be able to read any more until they add some content (or log out).

Where shall I send the invoice?

#3 Grumpus

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Posted 03 November 2011 - 02:53 PM

Hiya Kim. Saw your Facebook post and wandered in. :cheers:

End of the day - it comes down to the TOS agreement, I think. I seem to remember something about this that we worked out way back in the day, but I don't remember if it was ever solidified or what.

Here are my thoughts in general terms...

How much did the poster get paid when they contributed the content to Cre8asite forums? I think you should be willing to pay them that much at the time of sale. I know I have 1000 or so posts here, so let me get out my calculator... yep. You own me $0.00 (plus 10% interest over 10 years is.... yeah -- $0.00).

One might argue that the content here is what creates the value. That might be true in a blog or other "news" type environment, but we all know that every person who comes here with a question doesn't go back through the content and find his answer - he asks it again and someone answers it (or links to the answer - often times that link will be to an answer on another site, too). The value of the forum is the users themselves and the quick, helpful interactions. If the answer is already here - great, it saves people a few minutes, but if it's not, someone will surely take the time to answer it.

Okay, now I'm arguing that the users are the value and that you should pay them, right? Imagine for a moment that you owned a neighborhood bar that was really popular. We'll call it "Cheers" because I like that show. I want to buy it because you have a lot of customers and they hang out a lot and it's a good profitable business. I'm buying it because you have a lot of customers (users) who hang out and talk about life and philosophy. I know if someone has a question, good ole Cliffy will have an answer for them. If someone wants to vent about their bad day, Norm will listen to you for hours - so long as you keep his beer full, anyway. I can buy anyplace that sells alcohol, but I want your bar because it has "content" - provided by the customers.

So, now - if I want to buy your bar, do I also have to pay Norm and Cliff, and all the rest for their content? Nope. In fact, I'm probably going to raise the price of beer by $1 and charge them more. Lucky for the forum users, there's no charge, so they shouldn't have to worry about that in the event someone else buys it. (Though there was a day where people had paywall forums for all the good stuff, I don't think that would fly nowadays)

At the end of the day, the content is copyrighted by the original poster - but Cre8asite Forums were given express permission to use it here in these forums as you see fit. IF the new owner were to take down the forums and repost everything under his own name as his own work - then they would have a claim against him. But so long as he buys your forum and all associated rights and materials, he can use them the same way as you have been allowed to use them. Norm and Cliff might choose not to stay and hang out anymore after the sale, but they cannot be reimbursed for the atmosphere and contributions they made in the past, they can only choose to not contribute more.

I'm not a lawyer, but I play one when I drink.

G.

#4 tam

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Posted 03 November 2011 - 03:11 PM

I think the SEs take content on the groups they are quoting small portion from it and attributing the source which is generally considered acceptable. It gets more dicey when they move away from providing a sentence in the search results and start scrapping content to fill in their own pages which as destinations in their own right.

Forum content is more tricky. I don't think it belongs to the owner to do anything they like with, posting an image doesn't give me the right to use it elsewhere. However I think you do give some rights when you submit it eg the permission to display it on the forum.

#5 EGOL

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Posted 03 November 2011 - 03:21 PM

Forums are bought and sold all of the time.

When they are sold it is probably the domain, access to hosting and programming files that are sold - not the posts themselves.

The forum lives on, just a new person paying the bills. And, as the forum lives on people keep posting as usual.

That's my opinion... but I am not a person qualified in internet property law.

#6 jocelyn

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Posted 03 November 2011 - 04:12 PM

I wonder who got what when G bought youtube... I doubt the members that posted videos before the purchase got anything...

#7 Grumpus

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Posted 03 November 2011 - 04:35 PM

I wonder who got what when G bought youtube... I doubt the members that posted videos before the purchase got anything...


True that.

I also remembered what I was thinking about at the beginning of the post I made earlier. We had a situation where a user wanted all of their posts removed from the forum for whatever silly reason. If I remember correctly our answer was "Suck it, buddy!" Except, I think we worded it more like this:

"We do not remove any valid posts on the forums because disappearing posts breaks the continuity of the threads. If you really feel that you want your posts removed, you have the ability to go through them and do it yourself, but we have no desire to, nor obligation to take the time to do it for you."

And if memory serves, he screamed and threatened to ruin us because we refused to take down his copyrighted material for him. Shortly after that, time continued on and we all forgot his name and, until now, the situation in general. lol At any rate, Ammon or Bill or someone did a little research on the subject and we felt safe with that response and action (or lack, thereof).

#8 AbleReach

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Posted 05 November 2011 - 04:02 AM

When I have been published, I don't then own a portion of the publication. This is a non-issue.

#9 DCrx

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Posted 05 November 2011 - 07:36 AM

I think this conundrum has to do with the limitations of understanding and valuation of intangibles.

I've been on a couple of forums where I was the only one posting, subjectively, valued content. The reason the people would come to that forum section. Leaving each, contributions consisted of scraping software and SEO gimmicks. (They were not SEO sections).

Only in relatively pure instances would my share matter. Otherwise its an interplay of discussion. Social interaction.

Now. One writing forum got sold three or four times. There were many good contributors with good interaction between members. It has a small, small fraction of the membership it once did. Explaining why answers some interesting questions. Questions the developers of the mildly improved BBS software people install do not want to ponder.

Everything. Everything is about how the forum developer attracts valued contributors and designs for valued interactions. And sorry, no controls in the admin section that approaches anything like social interaction design.

If money is paid for a forum, it's being paid for control over what makes the forum valuable. Design outside and beyond what the software developer did. Outside the combinaton of modules turned on and off. Like any other business that changes hands, when the membership senses the change going wrong ... they leave.

You'd expect a Netflix debacle like Qwickster being the byproduct of takeover accounting and a new management which didn't understand their users.

The AOL/Time Warner deal shows just how bad a valuation based on past performance predicting future results turns out. Money paid really should hinge on the interaction design -- to put it another way, the extent and techniques developed to manage or be responsible for -- the success of the site. Although popular, not the external past factors which can not be counted on to contribute toward future success.

I'm talking about things like invitations. Conversation starters. Incentives. Policy. Marketing. Modifications to forum structure.

So membership interaction and the unique tools built into the system for gaining and retaining members is what you want to base a bid on. (With any associated cashflow taken into account.) Otherwise you're paying and praying.

Edited by DCrx, 05 November 2011 - 08:03 AM.


#10 Dr.Marie

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Posted 05 November 2011 - 07:42 AM

Can you find any examples of forums that were sold and people were paid for their content? I doubt it!

I think this would only be an issue if this was some type of forum where the members were paid to post and continued to get royalties on that post. Speaking of which, when do I expect my payment for all of the posts I have made here? :)

#11 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 05 November 2011 - 01:37 PM

The normal model is that contribution of an article to a publication grants that publication specific rights to publish the article. Additional contract riders are sometimes added which either grant additional permissions (resale or republication of the article) to the publisher or restrict the further rights of the publisher; but it's a pretty standard model that publication allows single-use publication. In this case, that could reasonably be interpreted that the body which is the publisher (cre8asiteforums.com) has permission to publish the article on cre8asiteforums.com. Sale of the forums would transfer those publishing rights: but would not grant permission to use the content in any other way, such as re-purposed in a blog, distributed in a magazine, or even (arguably) moved to a different domain.

Now, generally speaking, this information is expressed in the Terms of Service which any member agrees to when they become a member. Our ToS, however, doesn't address ownership of content in any way other than by restricting members from posting copyrighted material unless "the copyright is owned by you or by this bulletin board" -- not very useful in this sense, since it doesn't do anything to specify copyright ownership of new content.

At any rate, I'd summarize like this:

1) It is a normal model to allow specific use publication when content is authored for publication.
2) The lack of clarity in the Terms of Service means that there is no *specific* clarity on this topic for these forums.

I think it's very unlikely that you would be liable to provide payment to members for their posts, for many, many reasons -- but it's nonetheless accurate that the forum is not setup with any specific clarity on the subject, and would be dependent on interpretation.

Probably not something to worry about very much...but it might be worthwhile to alter the terms of service to provide clarity on that!

Also, the Terms of Service still say "Forum Rules link in the upper right of the forums", which is obviously no longer true...

#12 iamlost

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Posted 06 November 2011 - 02:36 PM

I was once told that the posts put here by forums members are essentially copyrighted content that belongs to you, and should the forums ever be sold, each member was owed $$ for their discussions.

End of the day - it comes down to the TOS agreement, I think.
...
At the end of the day, the content is copyrighted by the original poster - but Cre8asite Forums were given express permission to use it here in these forums as you see fit. IF the new owner were to take down the forums and repost everything under his own name as his own work - then they would have a claim against him. But so long as he buys your forum and all associated rights and materials, he can use them the same way as you have been allowed to use them.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. However, I have discussed this subject with my law-type-person in the past and my understanding is:
* each member holds copyright for their own posts.

* the forum has limited publication rights. These rights have both implicit, i.e. the voluntary posting of the content, and explicit, i.e. the site ToS, points.

* while the value of the publisher is in great part the value of the posts the publisher is not liable to the posters, individually or severally, for realising that value, i.e. if the site is sold. This is similar to a print book publisher - if the publication company is sold existing authors do not receive compensation.

However, where the area becomes a bit murky is when a forum poster, i.e. author, requests that their content be removed, in whole or in part; to withdraw the originally proffered publication rights (see Grumpus' comment above). Some fora do explicitly address this, most do not. In some circumstances, i.e. sale or repurposing of site, I expect that publication rights not only could be cancelled but applicable content removal be required. In most instances an author/poster simply withdraws consent by ceasing to post, this does not affect existing posts which remain.

Note: just because something is in a ToS, EULA, or similar does not mean that it is enforceable everywhere or even anywhere. Similarly, just because copyright exists doesn't mean that permitted publication rights can always be retroactively withdrawn, although with digital media it is much more practicable than with print.



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