Friday, February 15, 2008

Facebook and copy protection

A slightly different take on the previous post:

Facebook's terms of service bring out an interesting gray area in copy protection. The gist of the contract appears to be that you own whatever you put up, but you don't own anything else. In particular, you don't own your friends list. Facebook does. I haven't checked, but I assume this is the norm on such sites, not just a Facebook thing.

But what does that ownership mean? Facebook obviously doesn't mind you telling people "I know so-and-so on Facebook." That's good for business. They shouldn't mind if you happen to have an email address book that has the exact same contents as your friends list. That's none of their business, and it would clearly fit into the "personal, non-commercial use" exception.

On the other hand, they definitely mind if you, say, write a script to crawl your friends list and whatever can be reached from there and make a copy of it. There are very specific "no bots" clauses aimed at just that.

The presumption is that if you're using a bot, as opposed to personally browsing, cutting and pasting, you must have some commercial reason for it. It will be interesting to see how well that holds up.

Another thought: For most of history, copy protection has relied on it just being too slow to copy things yourself. Technology has disrupted that, starting with the photocopier and the tape recorder, spurring the development of cryptographic copy protection.

"No bot" clauses are a sort of throwback. The content is unprotected, beyond requiring a password to get into the system, but if you access too much of it too fast, the hammer falls.

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