Yahoo/Flickr opened a can of worms when they announced the plan to print their users’ photos on canvas and offer them for sale as wall art, without offering royalties. The move is perfectly legal and allowable under the terms of the user agreement for participants in the free storage and sharing opportunity. Marissa Mayer says selling wall art as a line of business will help to make Flickr awesome again. I thought the deal was to pull every bit of money out of Flickr before scrapping it, or maybe a ploy to show prospective buyers just how lucrative Flickr is.
I expect more free services to attempt to cash in on user content for one reason or another, now that she’s led the way. It will be exciting to find out if the proceeds from user content are worthwhile and if disgruntled freeloaders will kill the services. Imagine being curated out of a content grab.
It would be a horse of a different color if paid website hosting companies started curating their paying users’ content and packaging it somehow for resale, I would have thought. But a browse through my hosting company’s user agreement showed me that paying for the service isn’t enough — the company also lays claim to do anything they want with my content. A condition of being on their servers is a license for all rights to my content. It strikes me as no different than paying rent for an apartment with a lease provision that the landlord can come in at any time and do whatever he wants with my furniture.
I had thought the unspecified rights I was licensing were strictly to do with protecting them in the process of running my content through the technological systems that put it out on the internet and keep it there. Why would I knowingly pay for a service that is no safer for my copyrights than any of the free services run by technological giants whose features for users far outstrip what my hosting company offers? I wouldn’t. When my prepaid hosting contract runs out at the end of 2015, I probably won’t renew it.
I don’t like the provision in the user agreement, but in my case, there is nothing to sell. My sites have been stripped down to bare minimum for a couple of years because the task of keeping them technically correct is too tedious and time-consuming. A website is still a business essential, but a website in traditional format is only slightly more effective than a yellow pages ad. There has to be more, yet time spent fiddling a website is time away from the rest of what the market expects. Automation is not a luxury.
Server farms, mine at least, don’t do platform development. They wage price wars and offer their customers patchworks of links to external programming services for building the modern features that development companies offer on buttons, with the basic configurations already set. At the end of next year, the freedom that paid hosting services on server farms enable might well be irrelevant. It’s highly unlikely that they can ever be awesome again.
It seems to me that it’s also highly unlikely that my hosting service and others like would benefit much from cashing in on the unlimited license provision they slipped into their contracts. The sad fact is that anything they have on their servers that anybody wants has already been stolen from its website. In twenty years, artifacts on servers from this generation of internet might be interesting and salesworthy, if they’re visible to futuretech.