According to The Consumerist, Facebook made a small but significant change to its TOS ("Terms of Service"): now they claim complete ownership of all of the content you upload for all time and can use it for any purpose, including making money off it, even if you close your account.
A read-through of key points in Facebook's TOS shows just how extraordinary their claims are to your creations (words, photos, videos, audio--even your name!).
1. "You are solely responsible for the User Content that you Post on or through the Facebook Service.... You represent and warrant that you have all rights and permissions to grant the foregoing licenses."
In other words, if you infringe someone else's copyright by uploading material for which you do not have the right, then it is your fault and not Facebook's. And you assert that all the content you upload is yours to hand over forever to Facebook. "Hand over forever"?
2. "You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof."
Yes, "hand over forever". They can do anything they want with it, even if you close your account. The previous TOS made it clear that, once you cancelled your account with Facebook, they would no longer retain these rights over your uploaded materials. However, things have changed. Now, even if you have left Facebook, the company can use your name and any photos or other content you uploaded in their advertising or "in connection with the Facebook Service". But what is the "Facebook Service"?
3. The "Facebook Service" is much more than what people normally think of as "Facebook-the-website". It can include any medium currently existing (books, films, audio, or whatever) and any medium developed in future. As detailed in the company's new TOS, "The 'Facebook Service' means the features, services and properties that Facebook makes available through (a) www.facebook.com or any other Facebook-branded or co-branded website (including, without limitation, any and all sub-domains and all international, mobile versions and successors thereof), (b) the Facebook Platform and ( c ) other media, devices or networks now existing or later developed."
In other words, once you upload it, they own it and can do whatever they like--however they like--with it until the end of the universe.
Update: At 2.09pm today (Monday, 16th February 2009), creator and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg posted a long blog entry that tries to downplay the significance of the company's TOS. However, even granting Facebook's current desire to maintain the "trust" of its users and not to use the powers it gives itself in the TOS, the problem remains that the wording of the TOS does let them do whatever they want with your content.
It may not be in their interests to exercise those powers now, but who can tell what the future will bring? Will there come a time when it is in their interests to capitalise upon those powers?