Monday, 14 December 2009

Strong terms of use

A recent decision of a US federal court in favour of Facebook (Facebook v Power Ventures) highlights the importance for popular websites of using strong terms of use to prevent copying. 

After Power Venture’s website ( and Facebook unsuccessfully tried to reach an agreement to share information, created its own Facebook account, agreed to Facebook’s terms of use and approached other users as an ‘ordinary user’. The fact that Power Ventures copied ‘entire pages’ (proprietary data) was considered to fall within the scope of Facebook’s terms of use, and was therefore deemed illegal. 

The judge, however, did not refer to protecting users’ information when this is not covered by terms of use, and when non-proprietary information is copied. If this is the case, and users have given their consent to the copier, the website in question cannot do much about it. Facebook already allows thousands of other companies limited access to the Facebook platform through its ‘Facebook Connect’ service, as it realises the vast amounts of information it manages attract many businesses. Currently, strong and explicit terms of use seem to be the most powerful tool to prevent information being copied legally.