wakeboard fail

photo courtesy of wakeworld.com

Summer is a great time for building family memories.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably had your phone in hand more than once snapping pictures and videos of kids splashing in the pool, camping and campfires, or trips to the beach or cottage.  The latest video I took is of a huge family water balloon fight in slo-mo; what a hoot!  But when I got home I was reminded that while I own that content now, I can very easily hand it over to someone else to do with as they please.

Spending a few years in politics got me into the nerdy habit of reading laws. This helped me going into business and dealing with copyright and fair use laws, among others. I also read the legal agreements of most of the apps and software I use.

Yep, I know how to party hard.

Well, I wanted to find a good video editing app for my phone to cut together a great recap of our family fun.  So I popped open the App Store to see what looked good.  Without mentioning any names, I had 3 contenders and ended up settling for one from a well-known company with very high ratings. I downloaded it, got my nerd on and read the legal.

Using pretty much any company’s software or app for editing or sharing your content gives them permission to use it too.

Here’s an excerpt of the legal from the app (name omitted) I downloaded and quickly deleted:

“By making available any Content through the Service, you hereby grant to … a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, withthe right to sub license, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, reference, store, cache, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast and otherwise exploit such Content on and through third-party distribution channels selected by, but not affiliated with … in any form, medium or technology now known or later developed, in whole or in part, for any purposes, including for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, subject to any limitations on use of your private Content…you also grant … the right to sub license these rights to third parties for distribution via third party distribution channels, which may include viral distribution of your Content.” [emphasis added]

In plain English, I take this to mean that the app company can pretty much do whatever they want with any content I upload or edit using their app, including sell it, store it, or give it to others who might make it go viral.  Now, I admit I’m no lawyer, but chances are neither are you. And if I’m wrong and it takes a lawyer to decode what this really means than there are millions of clueless app users out there using software with legal they can’t understand even if they tried.  Indeed, a 2016 study from Norway entitled AppFail: Threats to Consumers in Mobile Apps found that many popular apps use unclear or hypothetical language in their terms of use, fail to explain or have very intrusive permissions, and “reserve the right to share personal data with unspecified third parties for poorly specified purposes.”

Am I worried that I’ll see my family video on TMZ or a viral Top 10 list? Not really. But it does give me pause to think about what I’m uploading.  It’s on there forever and who knows what someone else might do with it.  And while I don’t think there’s much of a market to buy my epic water balloon masterpiece, maybe you’re someone who does have some awesome content that you do want to market.  If you use this app or many others, you could be selling your profits up the river.

When it comes time to edit and share, make sure you and your memories don’t get owned.

Before paranoia sets in about using apps for your creative work, it’s important to know that not all apps (or their legal agreements) are the same.  I compared this app to the legal of another one that I use for graphic design and the section about user content was very different. My design app explains that the company will only ever use my content in very limited, explicitly defined ways and just for improvements to my overall service. There’s also no mention of the word “sell” on their part.  I like that they have multiple reminders to be responsible and take care in what you post.  That’s sound advice in our post-every-minute-of-my-day culture.

So, snap another selfie while you’re sun tanning or shoot a great clip showing off your wake boarding tricks (or fails).  But when it comes time to edit and share, make sure you and your memories don’t get owned.  I found this webpage from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on understanding mobile apps to be very helpful.  Read it, and read the legal on your apps, or at least the parts about user content.

You (and your inner nerd) will be glad you did.

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