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Signing your life away? March 27, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Twitter, Web 2.0.
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film

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Judy **: http://flickr.com/photos/judy-van-der-velden/5396290870/

Last night I fired off a tweet providing notice of the latest post in my #366Web2.0 series. As it happens it was about Flixtime, an online application providing functionality similar to that of Animoto. Shortly afterwards a colleague replied asking:

Are the films created the property of Flixtime like Animoto? Is flix ok to use for pupil photos?

Well there are two things there I guess, so in the order they appeared:

1. This is a very valid question and one we perhaps ask ourselves all too rarely as we sign up for ‘free’ online services. How many of us take the time and trouble to read through the Terms of Service and simply put a tick mark in the checkbox saying we agree to them? On this occasion since I’d been prompted, I went back and took a look. Five and half thousand words later, I still couldn’t really answer the question fully. The ones at Flixtime aren’t particularly abstruse, but they’re still largely written in legalese, a language just fine and dandy for lawyers in a courtroom, but hardly accessible for an ordinary member of the public. I suppose I can consider myself reasonably well read, so how would the ToS appear to a 13 year old or to someone with learning difficulties? Yes a company has no choice but to protect itself from possible litigation, but is it reasonable to expect that a potential user will have read and understood over five thousand words of legally-oriented terminology? Here’s a sample from Flixtime’s terms:

This Agreement shall continue in perpetuity unless terminated in accordance with this Section 13. Flixtime at any time may terminate this Agreement in its sole discretion, including, without limitation, for breach by you of any of your representations, warranties or obligations under this Agreement.

http://flixtime.com/terms/

I wondered if others were similar. Here’s a few words from YouTube’s three and half thousand:

14.3 You agree that if YouTube does not exercise or enforce any legal right or remedy which is contained in the Terms (or which YouTube has the benefit of under any applicable law), this will not be taken to be a formal waiver of YouTube’s rights and that those rights or remedies will still be available to YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/t/terms

And from Prezi’s four and half thousand words (which to be fair appears somewhat less inaccessible):

When you upload User Content on or through the Service, you represent and warrant that, with respect to all User Content that you upload, transmit, publish and disseminate through the Service, (a) you have all the rights and licenses necessary to use, reproduce, publish, display publicly, perform publicly, distribute or otherwise exploit such User Content in connection with the Service (and to grant to Prezi the licenses set forth in this Agreement);

http://prezi.com/terms-of-use/

And let’s not even think about PInterest!

Anyway, in answer to the original question, this phrase from Flixtime’s terms might help:

You hereby grant Flixtime a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual license to use your Submission for the purposes of providing the services contemplated hereunder.

Which suggests to me that Flixtime is at liberty to use your stuff, but doesn’t become the owner … however I’m more than happy to be corrected if my interpretation is too loose!

The second point is perhaps a little easier to answer … possibly!

2. “Is Flixtime OK to use with pupil photos?” I’d suggest requires pretty much the same answer as “Is it OK to post pictures of pupils on the Internet?” I’d guess that most (all?) schools have a policy regarding the taking and use of images, so that should be the starting point. If the policy doesn’t specifically discuss posting images, then a re-write might be in order. As do most schools, we post heaps of images of students on our official school website; we want people to be able to see students enjoying their time with us and we feel it’s important to recognise and celebrate student achievements. But we do so following guidelines which parents are aware of and have agreed with. Are sites other than the school website covered by the same terms? Should they be, or are they different?

Me? Well I’d be inclined to play safe and try to arrange my activities so that imagery used does not require inclusion of students, if I know the output will be posted to the Web. That way, the issue never arises. Or is that being too paranoid?

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Comments»

1. Alex Findlay - March 27, 2012

A thoughtful post, and highlighting this issue periodically is always a good thing!
Most of us do not read the TOS, unless we are prompted to (as you were), or if something goes wrong.

In my role, I require people to read and accept the terms of service prior to using my website. It is less than one page long, yet most people still do not read it, even when I am sat with them!

Free sites do want something from you, and that’s your content!

As for posting pictures of pupils, always check you have parental permission and follow school guidelines with regards to posting 🙂

ianinsheffield - March 27, 2012

Wise words Alex and thanks for clarifying the important issue of parental permission. I didn’t really make that explicit, but we seek parental permission at the start of each academic year (or as part of the induction process for students starting mid-year). Our guidelines for posting images are within our Staff Handbook, but this is something we also take the opportunity to remind people of whenever we’re working with them to manipulate images for internal use, or ‘filing’ them following field trips, activities and such like.

I feel there’s a ‘plain English’ case to be made for ToS. If only they were written (translated?) in such a way that people could understand their meaning, then perhaps holding them to account if they transgress would become more fair?

2. Sam shallcross - March 27, 2012

Thanks for the thoughts and guidance on this topic Ian and Alex. It is so frustrating that there are these great facilities to use to make slideshows, movies etc but you cannot make them privately! So my question about if flix is ok for pupil photos really has to be no, as like animoto, the slideshows created can be used and published anywhere by the company.

I agree a data consent policy is essential but often people don’t realisecc

Sam shallcross - March 27, 2012

Sorry. . Continued on my mobile. . Often staff don’t realise that by creating films in animoto or other such mediums, for purposes other than publishing, using pupil photos, they are infringing on those pupils who have said no to being published online. Once the film is created technically it is online and available for animoto to share, even if downloaded and used for a completely different purpose.
Our parents really appreciate the videos I make displaying the pupils’ work using animoto and I look forward to experimenting withflixtime

ianinsheffield - March 28, 2012

Absolutely with you on this one Sam. I guess this is part of what being digitally literate means – being able to evaluate what the ramifications of one’s actions are when using online tools. In a sense, only ever using locally installed applications shields you somewhat from how the WWW works and the ways in which we need to think around the issues involved.
Look forward to hearing how you get on with Flixtime.

3. daibarnes - March 27, 2012

The first issue is a big concern Ian. However, I think the concern diminishes because the *free* services have the right to distribute your content via their service as they wish. Do they have the right to alter what you upload? Well, yes. YouTube removed the audio on my first ever upload because it breached copyright (sorry ChumbaWumba). But if YouTube mashed up your content with a few other vids, are they crossing a line? I’m not aware of this ever happening. I’m not sure about the answer but I imagine they would be within their legal rights and agreements.

This all becomes insignificant if you think about it from the users POV. You make a video. That video has some value to you. Who do you want to see it? What is your distribution channel? Users sign up to a free service as a distribution channel. You lose control within the parameters you agree to. For bands it was (still is?) similar. Record companies take control. They employ distributors to get music into the hands of those willing to pay for it.

The internet revolution occurred because Tim Berners-Lee gave his http invention to the world. He could have charged per click. This freedom from commerce is possibly the kindling that ignited the dramatic changes now apparent in all media and telecoms. Companies are now trying to turn a buck by providing a service popular enough to earn advertising revenue or as a teaser to a premium account. We, the users, are the product.

But here’s the rub. These companies cannot abuse their privilege because word would get around and users would leave, crushing revenue streams. The beauty of the internet is that it will protect itself. There are champions of openness and freedom online just in case users are subject to globalised corporate or government collusion. Certain behemoths might present a concern – facebook, google – but if they turned against their users they would face a backlash that would compromise their very successful business models.

Finally, it is the user that is responsible for what they create. Whatever public distribution channel you choose you have to make sure your rights are protected but equally appreciate your work can be copied and distributed by others. If you want control, do not give your content to a free service. It is your choice. They are distributors who don’t charge. Is there any point in using these channels to share your content? Well that also is up to you.

ianinsheffield - March 28, 2012

Thanks for such a fulsome response Dai and particularly for coming at things from a different angle – a more philosophical or ideological perspective perhaps? Personally I strive to make sure I only post things to the web that I am happy to be shared widely; if someone else can benefit from something I’ve done, then the satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped is reward enough. This assumes of course that they don’t take liberties, pass off something I’ve created as their own and proceed to gain financially from it … but at the end of the day, should I care more? I’m (fortunately!) not having to make a living from what I produce. Most of the time when I’m creating stuff for the Web, the benefit I enjoy is from the process I go through, rather than the finished product. Perhaps that’s often the case for our students too? Or it’s from the feedback I receive which helps me push my learning further. I guess that once it’s ‘published,’ whatever I created has little further intrinsic value to me, other than in generating connections or communication.


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