It’s normal and reasonably assumed when you are contributing to a “community site” that the data submitted will not be used for commercial purposes, people will not be generating money from the data you supply, it will not be sold or given to another site with different T&C’s without your permission.
Of course that’s what you would assume, but you must always check the T&C’s, there are many licences and variations of these out there.
A lot of forums are commercial businesses, The Expedition Portal and Horizons Unlimited both operate as businesses and put a lot of effort into advertising products and services on their sites. Going back a decade or so this was the norm for forums, someone created a community forum, they took the time and money to set it up, and looked at ways to recover those costs. With the rise of internet advertising, forums saw opportunities to monetise the content. This became the norm and you expected to see some advertising in the forums, and accepted it was needed to provide the service.
In today’s world, hosting is cheap, software is cheap and there is little excuse to generate income from providing such services. Some Forums are not for profit i.e Overland Sphere, there is no advertising in the forum nor do we wish to earn money from providing the service.
Most forums, as part of joining require you to sign up to their T&C’s, it is normal for these to include a non-exclusive licence to use the content uploaded in any way they wish. These are normally standard T&C’s and not edited to suit each site. Without this most forums would not be able to operate.
When you post in a forum, you should bear in mind you are granting the site a licence to use your content and they are free to use it any way they wish. In practice, they do not appear to abuse this right.
Wiki based sites regularly use a creativecommons.org licence there a six different types of licences, these normally allow for use, copying and editing for non-commercial purposes, provided appropriate credit is given to the source, however others variations include “for any purpose, even commercially.” Which would mean provided a commercial third party gave credit to the source, the Wiki site, they could generate income from the information / data.
There is nothing wrong with sties that allow all use including commercial, just be aware what licencee is place before you add your data. Remember its also your contribution so you should be comfortable with how it is being used.
Attribution CC BY
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND
This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
Most Wiki based sites do not generate income, and generally it is accepted / assumed they do not. Those that do should clearly state so, to avoid any confusion.
Next time you join a Wiki, check the T&C’s.
Other Websites / Service providers
Other sites have their own T&C’s, quite often and reasonably these are in place to protect the service provider, but its sometimes ambiguous as to what they are allowed or not allowed to do with your data.
For example on Overland Sphere, we have T&C’s that protect us as an entity but we also clearly state that “Syndicated blog posts remain the property of the originating author and subject to the author’s copyright.” And “Your data, your content & your photos are yours; we will never attempt to sell it or seek ownership of your data.” “
We do not grant permission to commercial third parties to use your data as this is for you to grant and not us. You have kindly provided your data so that we can share it with the community, and that is as far as it goes…
So this brings me to something that has happened to me recently, a while back a popular information sharing site was created, we decided that we did not agree with the T&C’s on their site as they appeared to be to exploitive, and too strong with no clear statement that they would never sell you data…
Here is an extract of those T&C’s “By submitting User Submissions on the Site or otherwise through the Site, you hereby do and shall grant xxx a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully paid, sub licensable and transferable license to use, copy, edit, modify, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, perform, and otherwise fully exploit the User Submissions in connection with the Site.”
Now these T&C’s are unduly harsh (which we have pointed out before), if they require rights to share the data with specific third parties etc. they can add those details specifically rather than having an open door to do whatever they like when they like with the data. Most T&C’s can be changed at a later date provided said rights are written into the T&C’s.
Back to the story, I contributed my content to another community site, whose T&C’s were similar but not as harsh… and my assumption was that the ownership of the data was not transferable without my permission. The T&C’s state “This includes the right to sublicense to others at our discretion” and clearly did not state that they had the right to transfer ownership of the data or licence. They also clearly stated “Don’t worry, we won’t sell your contact details to marketing companies for spamming!” These were terms I read and agreed to.
So what I found out yesterday was that the ownership of the data I had contributed had been transferred to a site, one which I chose not to contribute to as I did not agree to their terms and conditions.
In a case where ownership is being transferred and where the data contributed was now under different terms and conditions, I would have expected either party to reasonably have tried to notify or contact the users before publishing and using the data.
They could have a) put a notice up on their site(s) b) attempted to contact the users, they had a link to our website and clearly knew our website name c) also announced the changes through the online communities.
They should have given people a clear option to opt in or out of the transfer and also given a chance to read, understand and choose whether they agreed to the new terms and conditions which the data is held under.
I contacted both parties who explained the reason for the transfer was due to one of the sites going down, even so, this should not have prevented them from storing the data to safeguard it. They could have, once the data was saved, notified or contacted the users for permission to transfer the data, as this does not appear to have been covered in the original sites T&C’s.
So the questions here:
1) Did they legally breach the T&C’s – probably.
2) Was the way the transfer was carried out reasonable – Whether their intentions were just or not, it’s a simple No – they broke my trust over data I submitted, probably breached the T&C’s I agreed to and subjected my content to alternative T&C’s without my permission…
3) Would I consider using this website, well I think their intentions are good, but they have made mistakes – They need to change their T&C’s and clearly state whether they do or do not intend to monetize the service in any way in the future and provide safeguards of the same!
4) They also need to allow people to choose to opt in or out of the transfer and roll back what they have done!
5) Is my Data safe, well no – it really depends on the site owners, as most sites have the right to do as they wish. Certainly this one does! Best thing is to check that they explicitly state they will not monetize your data and there are no provisions in the T&C’s that allow them to transfer ownership. There would be very little you could do once the data has been transferred or sold on, without taking legal action.
We generally do not support websites that try to monetize or generate income from the provision of data or that have exploitive T&C’s.
I have not included the identity of said websites as I am not out to name and shame them but do want to raise people’s awareness of what they are signing up to, I also hope the said websites do read this post and do implement changes… Take ownership of their actions and safeguard the data people have provided to them.