Bebo.com: Victim Blaming?

The problem with using a rating system that colors hosts with broad strokes (Heroes, Citizens or Villains) is that some hosts don’t fit neatly into one of the categories. Several hosts, such as Myspace, fit somewhere between most Citizens and most Heroes.

Bebo.com, on the other hand, fits somewhere between most Citizens and most Villains. They deal with copyright infringement quickly and effectively, but have questionable policies and an autoresponse that, to many, will seem to be a case of victim blaming.

What is Bebo?

Bebo describes itself as “the next generation social networking site” and is positioning itself against other social networking sites such as Myspace and Xanga.

It provides many of the same services as its competitors including a profile page, a blog, photos, quizzes and friends management. Bebo, also like its competitors, has seen an explosion of growth as the Web has moved over to social networking sites, and has an estimated 22 million accounts.

Bebo also recently won the Webby Award for best social networking site and, in February, announced a partnership with Skype to introduce instant messaging and voice chat to the service.

Bebo’s success, however, seems to mask a problem when dealing with copyright infringement, an area where Bebo’s policies, at the moment, leave a great deal to be desired.

Copyright Complaints

First off, I want to make it clear that my problems with Bebo are not related to a lack of response or even a slow response in dealing with copyright infringement. Bebo’s staff responded to my complaint quickly and effectively.

There are, however, surrounding issues that give me cause for concern.

First, registering a complaint with Bebo requires signing up with an account. Any attempt to file an abuse complaint via their contact page will direct you to click the “Report Abuse” link on the member’s profile. That link only works if you have an active Bebo account.

Second, after you file the complaint and the matter is closed, Bebo sends you an automated reply to let you know the matter has been handled.

While this is typical of many hosting companies, Bebo’s autoreply instructs you to prevent copying of your photos in your Bebo account and to block the infringing user from viewing your Bebo profile.

These steps, which have only limited usefulness for Bebo users, are completely useless to Webmasters that are not hosting their content on Bebo and only registered an account so they could report the abuse.

However, the most striking element of the letter was one of the closing lines of the email: “Do not post anything on your homepage unless you are 100% sure you would like to share it with the entire internet community.”

This struck me, and stunned me, because it rang of the classic victim-blaming argument many copyright foes present, “If you post something to the Web, you should expect it to get stolen.”

Whether or not that was their intent is unclear (an email sent to Bebo seeking clarification was not immediately returned, I will update this story should they respond), but it is disturbing to think that a host, even a cooperative one, might on some level harbor those kinds of feelings.

Hosts are critical when it comes to defending copyright online and, in that regard, cooperation is key. A host harboring such feelings could create problems, even if they begrudgingly go along with the letter of the law.

Means of Improvement

With that in mind, it’s worth pointing out that none of Bebo’s problems are difficult to resolve. In fact, Bebo’s speed of response could serve as a lesson for many hosts, including Microsoft.

Here are the steps that Bebo would, in my opinion, need to take in order to earn true “Citizen” standing.

  1. Register with the U.S. Copyright Office, as is required by the DMCA (PDF).
  2. Offer an email address to receive complaints from non-members (would be an element of 1).
  3. If Bebo wishes to continue to use autoresponders, which is fine, it should have a separate one for members and non-members.
  4. Bebo should drop the language that gives the appearance of “victim blaming”

If all of that took place and I could be convinced of Bebo’s sincerity in the fight against content theft and plagiarism, they would easily be a solid citizen, perhaps even a hero in the fight.

Conclusion

In the end, I’ve decided not to pass a rating on Bebo at this time. I have a few future cases that I’m going to monitor and I’m waiting eagerly for Bebo’s response.

Regardless, I wanted to make my concerns known now both to begin the dialog of improvement and to alert others that might be dealing with Bebo in the near future.

Simply put, Bebo, like most major social networking sites, is too big to ignore and their copyright policy will likely become a critical part of the copyright makeup on the Web.

It’s important that we deal with the matter as quickly as possible to prevent another case like Xanga’s.

[tags]Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Bebo, Myspace, Xanga[/tags}

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