But I don't mention this merely to riff on a great piece by Doone. I just want to shout at everyone, "IT'S NOT CONFINED TO JUST GAMING!!!" The paragraph he states "deserves some attention" is actually pretty damn boilerplate and splashed liberally across the Internet. That paragraph, perhaps slightly reworded but nonetheless equal in stricture, is applied in the End User License Agreement (EULA) by most Internet "services." Practically anything you create (referred to as Intellectual Property, or IP for short,) that you subsequently post to a third-party service on the Internet, has this paragraph applied to it. For example, here is what Facebook's EULA says about IP,
For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
And here's what the Internet darling Imgur says about it,
By uploading a file or other content or by making a comment, you represent and warrant to us that (1) doing so does not violate or infringe anyone else's rights; and (2) you created the file or other content you are uploading, or otherwise have sufficient intellectual property rights to upload the material consistent with these terms. With regard to any file or content you upload to the public portions of our site, you grant Imgur a non-exclusive, royalty- free, perpetual, irrevocable worldwide license (with sublicense and assignment rights) to use, to display online and in any present or future media, to create derivative works of, to allow downloads of, and/or distribute any such file or content. To the extent that you delete any such file or content from the public portions of our site, the license you grant to Imgur pursuant to the preceding sentence will automatically terminate, but will not be revoked with respect to any file or content Imgur has already copied and sublicensed or designated for sublicense. Also, of course, anything you post to a public portion of our site may be used by the public pursuant to the following paragraph even after you delete it.
By downloading a file or other content from the Imgur site, you agree that you will not use such file or other content except for personal, non-commercial purposes, and you may not claim any rights to such file or other content, except to the extent otherwise specifically provided in writing.
See, it's not any better. And the trickery isn't confined to just IP. A couple of years ago I read this article, Top EULA Gotchas: Website Fine Print Hall of Shame by Jared Newman for PC World, and was justly appalled by what these "service" providers are trying to get their greedy fingers on under the auspices of EULA. By accepting their terms, you pretty much agree to highway robbery. And honestly, there's not a damn thing you can do about it other than not agree. But if you want to use the service, you have to agree.
So how do we protect ourselves from this? For me it boils down to a simple rule. If I believe my IP has substantive value, I don't post it to so-called "free" services. T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L. If you don't know what that means, click the link. It has been one of my guiding principles since I first read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as a teenager. It makes me question what I am really paying for anything. Because whether today's generation likes it or not, there is no such thing as "free" on the Internet. Having an expectation of getting something for nothing is frankly sophomoric. Just as you expect to receive compensation for your hard work, everyone else does too - and that includes Mark Zuckerberg, Alan Schaaf, and all the other founders of "free" internet services.
So pick your Internet services wisely. Read the EULA for them, and try to understand what the legalese means. Make yourself smart; protect your IP. If they use the boilerplate paragraph highlighted by Doone, think three times before giving them anything you value, or you think others might find valuable. Only submit that which you deem to have no intrinsic value to you or anyone else beyond its purely social context. You know, like family photos and the like.
And photos provide as good an example as I've got on how to protect yourself. If you want to display your work, but retain your rights, shop around for the best service with which to do that. Facebook and Imgur are NOT that service. Nor is Google Plus. I post my best photos on Flickr. Here is why I use Flickr,
9. CONTENT SUBMITTED OR MADE AVAILABLE FOR INCLUSION ON THE YAHOO SERVICES
Yahoo does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Yahoo Services. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo Services, you grant Yahoo the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:
a. With respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of Yahoo Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo Services solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the specific Yahoo Group to which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo removes such Content from the Yahoo Services.
b. With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo Services other than Yahoo Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo Services solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo removes such Content from the Yahoo Services.
c. With respect to Content other than photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo Services other than Yahoo Groups, the perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content into other works in any format or medium now known or later developed.
"Publicly accessible" areas of the Yahoo Services are those areas of the Yahoo network of properties that are intended by Yahoo to be available to the general public. By way of example, publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo Services would include Yahoo Message Boards and portions of Yahoo Groups and Flickr that are open to both members and visitors. However, publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo Services would not include portions of Yahoo Groups that are limited to members, Yahoo services intended for private communication such as Yahoo Mail or Yahoo Messenger, or areas off of the Yahoo network of properties such as portions of World Wide Web sites that are accessible via hypertext or other links but are not hosted or served by Yahoo.
That's a lot of legalese to wade through, but look at the very first sentence. That sets the tone and character of everything that comes after. However, you still need to get down to the nuts and bolts of what they consider "publicly accessible areas." And Flickr does exert some rights to use your IP, though they limit themselves. That's good. This set of terms is a damn sight better than the Facebook or the Google Plus EULA. One of the reasons I stopped using Google Plus for my photography is because their EULA is the same boilerplate crapola Facebook uses. You can see it here.
The other thing that works for me with Flickr is I can actually set a license on my work to strictly specify when and where it may be used. This is done through Creative Commons. If you are not familiar with this licensing method, again, you need to learn it. ALL my stuff has a CC license on it and says outright "no commercial use" and "attribution required." By the gods, if I don' make money off my IP, no one else has the right to do it either! That said, Flickr will use my IP in some way that benefits them, and there is no way completely around that when you use someone else's service for which you pay nothing. That's the price of free.
If you are really worried about having your stuff stolen, there are ways to protect yourself. As a photographer, you can submit to Getty Images for example. They are quite aggressive in protecting their member's IP, sometimes sickeningly so. I think the music industry is the only institution more reviled for their heavy-handed attempts at protecting copyright. But if you own the IP, you will love them. You can also create your own site to showcase your work, and I don't mean use Wordpress.com either. They have a EULA too. I mean buy your own domain and rent space on a generic web server somewhere, or set up your own server. That is the only way you can absolutely avoid the quagmire that is EULA in this age of the Internet. But going it on your own means you are completely responsible for protecting your IP. You will have to be as draconian as Getty Images if don't want to get ripped off. The same Internet culture that believes it can get something for nothing also believes it's okay to take your stuff without asking. Protect yourself, but understand it may be the hardest part of creating IP.
Here's a perfect example from just last week. There was a very recent blow up over IP on a non-gaming blog I read. Stone Kettle Station posted a really good piece about the U.S. possibly going back into Iraq, and how stupid that would be. His blog clearly states how you can, and cannot, reference his IP. That didn't stop a Progressive Radio douchebag from reading the entire article, verbatim, over the airwaves for his audience - and money - none of which he paid to the author. That is blatant theft. What was his response when the author of Stone Kettle Station objected? He was told he should be "thankful" for the publicity. That's bullshit. I could use a lot stronger words to describe it, but frankly Jim Wright, the author and owner of the IP, did a much better job than I could. If you really want to understand why it is important to protect your IP, please, for gods sake, go read his post Thieving Bastards. As a blogger, vlogger, podcaster or whatever, you owe it to yourself to read what he writes about how not everyone can do it. Every angry word he writes is true.
But he runs the blog on his own. It's up to him to pursue legal recourse for the blatant theft of his IP. That's the really hard part about it. He's retired, so perhaps he has the time to do that. I, and most of you reading this, do not. The effort it takes to stop thievery more than doubles the personal cost. Remember that if you ever think about "borrowing" another blogger's work. Just don't. You can link, you can quote snippets, and you can certainly contact the owner and negotiate for more. But it is not Fair Use to make yourself fame or money off someone else's hard work. It's a crime. T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L. (And wow, did this take a rantish turn at he end. Haha, let that be a lesson to you!)
All that said, let's get down to the practical part of this post. You want to protect yourself, right? Well, the first part of that is to publicly post your license so the world knows what it is. There is a very good way to do this. You can set up your license at the Creative Commons Choose website, and they will build you a badge that clearly shows your license in internationally accepted format. You can see my license here. This is a free service. As such you can read their EULA here. ;) If you've not done this yet, you really should head over to the Choose link now and do it. It literally takes 30 seconds, and that includes the cut and paste into the sidebar widget like I have. If you are hesitant, ask yourself this question. What have you got to lose?