The DMCA on 7 Social Networking Sites

For the next segment in our “DMCA Seven” feature, we will take a look at the DMCA policy on seven of the largest social networking sites including Myspace, Facebook, Bebo and more.

In each case we will evaluate their policy, look for weaknesses and, as necessary, recommend steps for improvement.

However, as you can see below, for most of these sites, there is a lot of room for improvement. Worse yet, some have very critical issues that make it almost impossible to report copyright infringement, or other abuse problems, to the host.

myspace_logopng.png

Format: Email
Email Address: copyrightagent at myspace dot com
Location of Policy: Item Nine, Terms & Conditions
Registered with USCO: Yes (outdated)
Comments: Inconsistency is the word of choice for the Myspace policy. There are actually three different versions of it on the Web. First is their USCO submission, linked above, which is no longer valid. Second is the one provided in their terms and conditions, which provides the email address listed above. The third is the information provided under their “Contact” page, which directs you to yet another policy and a form to send your notice. Though the email address above works best, there is clearly room for confusion here. All in all though, the policy itself is the bare minimum and strives do enough to get by and not much else, a practice reflected by how they handle claims on the back end. Their policy provides only the basics for filing a DMCA notice with no mention of a counter-notice and does so in a very bare-bones way. The bottom line is that MySpace needs to clean up, update and unify its DMCA policy before serious problems emerge.
Grade: C-

orkut_logo.png

Format: Email
Email Address: amac at google dot com
Location of Policy: Google’s DMCA Policy
Registered with USCO: No (registered as Google)
Comments: Orkut is Google’s social networking site and it shares its DMCA policy with the rest of Google’s services. Unfortunately, as I’ve commented before, that is not a good thing. Google’s DMCA policy is notoriously obstructionist and roundly criticized no the Web. Its requirement of a physical signature does not mesh with the law, in particular the ESIGN act, and makes it nearly impossible to email a notice in. You can get around these requirements by scanning in your signature, placing it in a PDF (I recommend OpenOffice) and emailing that, but it is a huge hassle that is unnecessary and adds work for both the submitter and the processor. That issue aside, Google’s policy is very robust, containing the necessary information to file a notice and a counter-notice. It also provides links to several relevant sites and I do agree with their submitting notices to Chilling Effects. However, the policy is difficult to find from the Orkut Web site, buried in the terms of use, and the actual Google policy is more targeted at the search engine, not the hosting services such as Orkut and Blogspot.
Grade: D

facebook.png

Format: Email/Form
Email Address: copyright at facebook dot com
Location of Policy: Facebook’s Copyright Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: Facebook is a trend setter in so many ways, hopefully it can be one here as well. Facebook’s copyright policy is amazingly robust, including both notice and counter-notice information as well as well-worded cautions against sending false notices and providing a useful Copyright FAQ that can answer many of a member’s or a copyright holder’s questions. Best of all, Facebook provides a very easy-to-use form for submitting either a DMCA notice or a counter-notice. The form automatically checks that the notice is valid and aids inexperienced rightsholders in sending a notice in. All in all, it is almost the perfect policy with the perfect method for receiving notices, either via email or form. The only complaint I have about the policy is that the link to it is buried in the terms of use, under “Copyright Complaints” but, beyond that, Facebook sets the bar up to which other social networking sites will be held.
Grade: A

friendster.png

Format: Email
Email Address: ??? (help at friendster dot com?)
Location of Policy: Item Eight, Terms of Service
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: I’d love to talk more about Friendster’s DMCA/Copyright policy but there isn’t much to say. The site denotes one meager paragraph to the issue in their terms of service, of which but one sentence is targeted as those wishing to file a DMCA notice. However, following the “Contact Us” link provided takes you to a page with no clear contact information to report such an infringement. The policy is woefully incomplete, buried in their terms of service, does not provide adequate contact information and offers no guidance on filing a notice at all. Worst of all, the site is not registered with the USCO, so it is impossible to obtain the information through that database. This policy is effective non-existent.
Grade: F

linkedin.gif

Format: Postal Mail
Email Address: None
Location of Policy: User Conduct, User Agreement
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: As bad as the Friendster policy is, this one is much worse. Not only do the only denote one sentence to copyright issues, but they do not provide information to contact a DMCA agent anywhere on their site or with the USCO. Worst of all, the only means of contact they provide for handling abuse complaints, all abuse complaints, is a postal address in California. Though LinkedIn’s structure makes it slightly less of a copyright danger, there are still many potential problems and their policy is beyond reckless. It is a shame that the social network targeted at business users has such a sloppy policy. Most likely, I’ll be removing my own LinkedIn profile in the coming days/weeks after now that I am aware of this issue. I am officially taking suggestions on where to move to.
Grade: F

bebo.png

Format: Email
Email Address: copyright at bebo dot com
Location of Policy: Copyright Policy, Terms of Service
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: Previously derided on this site, Bebo has taken some solid steps to deal with these issues more appropriately. They have done away with the registration requirement, have posted a full DMCA policy in their terms of use and have designated an agent to handle all such claims. The policy itself is very robust, if a bit hidden, containing all of the necessary elements to file a notice and a counter-notice. However, I do find it a bit strange that the notice and counter-notice go to the same person, but to different email addresses. It is a complete policy that, for whatever reason, is not supplemented by an actual registration with the USCO. Still, the progress has been impressive and I hope that the site will continue to push forward in this area, perhaps bringing it to full safe harbor compliance.
Grade: C-

xanga.gif

Format: Email
Email Address: help-dmca at xanga dot com
Location of Policy: Xanga’s DMCA Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: In the past, I have been very hard on Xanga. Initially there was no DMCA information on their site and no registration with the USCO. After letters, calls and emails, I was able to get in touch with Xanga and, at least in a small way, push them toward becoming DMCA compliant. Now their policy is a model for other sites in the field to look at. Though not as practical as Facebook’s they have a well-written and robust policy that details both notice and counter-notice procedures. Their policy provides full contact information, including fax, email and snail mail as well as reasonable cautions on filing a false notice and links to relevant pages. They’ve also registered with the USCO and all of their information is consistent. My only complaint is that their DMCA policy is buried as a link in their terms of use, under “Copyright Infringement” and can be a little bit hard to find. The only other place the policy appears is as a link under “Legal” in the “Help” section. All in all, it is a very robust and very effective policy that, since the initial problems were resolved, has worked very well.
Grade: B+

Conclusions

When it was all said and done, I was very disappointed in how the social networking sites followed the DMCA. Two, Friendster and LinkedIn, outright failed, having incomplete and inadequate policies, one was barely passable, another was below average and only Xanga and Facebook were real standouts.

Given the importance of social networking sites on the Web, it is a great shame that they seem to struggle so dearly in this area. I am going to open up a dialog with both Friendster and LinkedIn to see about addressing these issues, previous attempts to speak with Google have been failed.

But as the Web becomes more and more reliant on social networking sites, their DMCA/copyright policies will become more and more important. We simple can not allow these sites to have weak or ineffective policies, lest they become homes to plagiarists, spammers and others that want to misuse content.

The time to act is now and I intend to start working on it today.

What the Ratings Mean

A – A complete policy that goes well above and beyond what is required. Often shows real innovation.
B – A solid policy that is well-thought out and is very complete. Shows consideration for submitters and users.
C – An average policy, follows the law to the letter but doesn’t go out of its way to help those submitting a notice or its users.
D – A policy that, while mostly complete, still raises severe ethical and/or legal questions.
F – An incomplete policy that fails to follow the DMCA or local laws in a severe way.

Pluses or minuses are used to indicate how the where a host fits in relationship to other hosts in that that tier.

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