Thursday 7 March 2013

Does Facebook create orphans?

Facebook Timeline profile
As all IP enthusiasts are well aware of, Facebook is an endless source of IP-related problems and, possibly, fun. 

There is one issue, however, which is of particular concern to this blogger and so serious to have made her sleepless [and also compelled her to spend more time on this social network to "investigate" it]

This is why she would be delighted to hear 1709 Blog's readers' views on it.  

The new [well, sort of: it was introduced in 2011] Timeline Facebook layout is intended to make subscribers' profiles look like a sort of online diary which contains everything these have deemed worth sharing with virtual friends or anyone on the internet [the privacy settings are decided by subscribers] since their birth day [this is to be intended literally]. In other words, Facebook Timeline allows you to "tell your life story".

Facebook-related insomnia can be stressful
Among other things, the Timeline layout allows the subscriber to choose a profile picture and a cover photo.

This blogger's concerns relate to the latter, as at the moment Facebook does not allow you to change the privacy settings for cover photos. This means that cover photos can be viewed and downloaded by anyone on the internet. 

Facebook Pages Terms warn in fact the subscriber that 

"All covers are public. This means that anyone who visits your Page will be able to see your cover. Covers can't be deceptive, misleading, or infringe on anyone else's copyright. You may not encourage people to upload your cover to their personal timelines. Covers may not include images with more than 20% text."

This statement raises quite a few issues. Besides those pertaining to users' privacy and 'classical' copyright infringement (such as unauthorised reproduction), there are other and possibly broader concerns pertaining to orphan works. 

Roberto needed his friends's advice
to choose a cool cover photo
It is unlikely that cover photos contain watermarks or just copyright notices (eg: © Facebook User) which might help tracing who owns the rights to a particular photograph.

This means that Facebook users have been making available over the internet millions of photographs [apparently 1.06 billion people use Facebook every month] for which it may become potentially challenging to determine who the rights holder is. 

The easiest and quickest solution would be for Facebook to allow subscribers to decide the audience for their cover photographs, as it seems unreasonable (to say the least) that one cannot have control over who can see (and download) their cover photographs. 

From a broader perspective, one might wonder what will be of these millions photographs in the coming years, after they have been available (and possibly circulated) over the internet for a certain time and whose relevant rights holders might have lost memory of/interest for them. 

Does the future of World Wide Web envisage a scenario in which orphans are more numerous than works with parents?

1 comment:

Francis Davey said...


I think the answer is, yes, that the World Wide Web absolutely may well create such a world.

If you think facebook is bad, have a look at tumblr and associated tumblr blogs. It is almost impossible to discover the provenance of such picture. When I have tried to source pictures I have found on the web, there has been no systematic way to do it. Each picture has required considerable work.

My only caveat is that image search engines, which are very much in their infancy, may come to the rescue. See things like google's "search by image" facility. Its pretty crude, but it can be used to find matching images and that sometimes will discover the origin of a work where conventional methods would not.