Who Owns Your Content?


The epiphany:

Something very interesting happened when Facebook changed their terms of service.   People who use the Facebook platform (for free) organized themselves using the (free) platform to threaten the core validity of the same (free) platform.  This could not happen in any other industry.

Saving face?

Ownership is largely characterized by the ability of one party to restrict the access of another party.  Judging by the results of this uprising, it seems that for all practical purposes, the users own their content and their impressions no matter what the TOS says.  This is a very strong argument for the tangibility of social, creative, and intellectual capital.

Ownership Economics:

The fact that people own and care for their content is what makes Facebook work.  Ownership is an extremely powerful force that drives intense participation and  innovation.  People will attend to their property, improve it, make it valuable, and create value for themselves and those around them.  Really, when was the last time you washed a rented car?

Historical perspective:

Most history books present the Homestead Act of 1862 as the product of a wise and benevolent government seeking to reward worthy citizens of a great young nation for populating the vast Western territories.  But that is not really true. Most of the land was already occupied by squatters who arrived disheveled, found a nice spot, built their small cabin, and farmed or hunted to sustain themselves.   They could not be evicted or charged with trespassing because a “jury of their peers” was also composed of squatters.

Problems arose when squatters could not borrow money to improve the land because they did not hold a title to it.  Legitimate landowners could not value their property if the land next door was untitled.  Border disputes resulted in gun battles.  Stealing was rampant. The children of squatters could not inherit the land without proper title. There was little incentive to produce anything beyond sustenance. When services and capital projects were required to support the increasing population, there was no tax base.  Not unlike Facebook, this new frontier could not be monetized.

Wisdom in Government; not always an oxymoron:

Perhaps the greatest moment in government came with the realization that it is impossible to change the behavior of people, rather, the best strategy would be to accommodate what they are going to do anyway.  So they legalized the squatters and gave them deed to their land. The occupants could sell or capitalize as they wished.  Investment capital flooded the region and entrepreneurs improved the land and created enterprises.  The government could then collect taxes proportional to the productivity of the citizens. The result was the development of the Western States as economic powerhouse that we know today.

Use it or lose it:

A very similar opportunity is presenting itself to Facebook and now the road to monetization should be crystal clear.  They should go out of their way to create terms of service that protects the rights of each and every member to own and control their content in its entirety, forever.

Next, Facebook should develop applications that allow advertisers to bid for impressions directly with the users compensating them for their time.  Users will build profiles that attract those seeking opinion, knowledge, feedback, wisdom AND SALES related to their products.  Users should be able to control every aspect of their content including any means that they can dream up to legally create revenue from their social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital.  Facebook should develop a knowledge inventory of what users know and make it available to others like a “Public Library or knowledge assets”.  Then they should develop applications to match knowledge surplus to knowledge deficit, etc. Let the trading begin.

The answer in their face:

If smart people can make money using Facebook just by doing what they are going to do anyway, they will flood the system with the most tangible forces in nature; social capital, creative capital, and intellectual capital. If Facebook can’t figure out how to monetize the asset staring them in their face, they will soon encounter a more powerful competitor – their own users.

2 thoughts on “Who Owns Your Content?

  1. Did you know there is a National Park site devoted to telling the story of the Homestead Act of 1862? To learn more about what may be the most influential piece of legislation this country has ever created go to http://www.nps.gov/home or visit Homestead National Monument of America. Located in Nebraska, the Monument includes one of the first 160 acres homestead claims but tells the story of homesteading throughout the United States. Nearly 4 million claims in 30 states were made under the Homestead Act and 1.6 million or 40 percent were successful. The Homestead Act was not repealed until 1976 and extended in Alaska until 1986. Homesteads could be claimed by “head of households” that were citizens or eligible for citizenship. New immigrants, African-Americans, women who were single, widowed or divorced all took advantage of the Homestead Act. It is estimated that as many as 93 million Americans are descendents of these homesteaders today. This is a story as big, fascinating, conflicted and contradictory as the United States itself. Learn more!

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