This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
In recent years there has been a lot of debate among visual artists concerning terms of service (TOS) on various popular websites -- and the rights of artists online due to the rise of online social networking. The main focus of concern involves social networking sites and user ownership-- and what happens to ownership when an image is uploaded. Myspace and Facebook have both received criticism from artists for not stating that users retain ownership of the content they upload. The issue has been raised again with Google's trial release of Google+. Needless to say, many artists are concerned that ownership of their images will be lost if they upload images to social networking websites in general.
The concern that artists have for terms of service does not stop with Myspace, Facebook, and Google+. Art focused social networking sites-- such as Myartspace and DeviantART -- have received criticism in the past until terms were rewritten to accommodate wary artists. Even after TOS changes that clearly state that users retain ownership of their content it is common for criticism of terms to continue. It begs the question: Should artists be wary of a websites terms of service? In my opinion, it depends on how you approach the issue. Many artist forget that TOS exist in order to protect a website from unnecessary lawsuits filed by website users.
There are several reasons why websites protect themselves with the common legal jargon found in a TOS section. For example, the content you upload to the website may end up residing on servers that are outside of the companies control. Without specific terms you could technically file a lawsuit against the website if that occurs. Obviously the owner of a website is not going to risk being sued for something that is bound to happen at one point or the other.
Search engines-- such as Yahoo and Google protect themselves in the same manner. In fact, if you are reading this I can promise you that you are 'accepting' the terms of whatever search engine you used to find this article. No matter what you do online you are under some form of TOS agreement whether you are aware of it or not. One could suggest that the Internet as we know it would be unable to function without TOS agreements.
In addition to the above a TOS agreement also protects the company from legal trouble if your content is shared on the website itself by other users. This is accomplished by making it clear that the user is responsible for the content that is uploaded. Without that wording a social networking website like Facebook would be leaving itself open to be sued by individuals as well as corporate entities that own copyright every time a site user uploads images, videos, and other forms of content without express consent from the copyright owner.
Point blank -- without the protection of specific terms a website, such as Facebook or DeviantART, would not be able to realistically function. The Internet itself would be a useless void lacking information -- very few individuals and companies would want to risk being sued by providing services that allow content to be spread virally online. That is something to think about when criticizing TOS agreements in general. Do you want the Internet or not? It is your choice.
In closing Part 1 of this series I think it is important for artists to grasp that social networking sites -- as well as other types of websites, and search engines for that matter -- are generally protecting themselves with the terms of service they adhere to. There is nothing wrong with being concerned about specific terms of service agreements -- but artists must realize that without TOS agreements in general the Internet as we know it would not exist. Public interest in art-- which has grown steadily due to the Internet-- would cease to increase as it has over the years.
And now for Part 2...
Take care, Stay true,