Mass-scale licensing of user-generated content - POSTPONED

Presentation by Milos Novovic, PhD Candidate, Department of Private Law

NOTE:  The presentation is postponed and will be held a lunch-event later this year.


Quite possibly the most significant phenomenon since the rise of the Internet is the transformative emergence and the subsequent wide acceptance of the Web 2.0 design paradigm.  The “old” Internet of the 90s, characterized, among other things, by slow connection speeds, static pages, “read-only” content has morphed into a dynamic domain, one in which content sharing, communication and collaboration rule supreme. Rich, dynamically-generated pages backed by cloud computing – such as blogs, wikis, social networks – are the new face of the Internet. Yet, in order to function and grow, these platforms need users to willingly submit and share content – usually their own writing, photographs, video recordings and so forth – as platform provider’s profits and “stickiness” grow exponentially with the increase in the number of users and the amount of submitted content.

As any work of authorship, user-generated content submitted to online platforms is entitled to full copyright protection, as long as it fulfills the minimal requirements. Still, Terms of Service offered by online platforms include licensing clauses – the ones by which authors control who else can use their work and in what manner – that are typically very broad and ambiguous. Google, is, for instance, allowed to use user content “for the purpose of promoting our services”. Facebook considers the license terminated once user deletes content, “unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it”. And LinkedIn asks users to give them perpetual license to, among other things, “copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered (…) without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties”.

My research will analyze these clauses from three angles. On one hand, the most pertinent analysis will be performed under the intellectual property law framework. Normative analysis of licensing clauses shall be carried out, in an attempt to develop an analytical framework for assessing their impact on user rights, and consequently propose a model under which it will be possible to determine their proper scope. The primary research output shall consist out of a set of steps and considerations that should be made when assessing whether particular licenses – and particular use scenarios – should be allowed and upheld. Broader IP considerations will follow, as we are witnessing a paradigm shift that is inconsistent with basic principles of copyright law: it is becoming more profitable to process, rather than create content – so how should the law respond? The second research angle is to look at users as parties in a contract, and to analyze the licensing clauses from a contract law perspective. The key objective is to identify potential remedies, as well as to draw attention to the veil of legal uncertainty that surrounds licensing clauses through all the stages – contract formation, interpretation and termination. And finally, pertinent privacy law issues shall be explored: given that user content is typically valuable to companies because of the personal information that can be data-mined from it, a not because of its creative value, there is a clear link between the intellectual property and privacy law at play.

The main goal of my presentation shall be to look at the practical cases and explain some of the realistic content use scenarios and the surrounding legal dilemmas. It is not likely that Facebook will, one day, decide to print and sell vast albums containing user photographs. But should they be allowed to show you a picture of yourself, running on a tropical island, computer-generated from your own photos, just as you’re thinking of booking a vacation?


Coffee, tea and fresh fruit will be served.
You may bring your lunch packet!

Published Aug. 25, 2014 11:37 AM - Last modified Oct. 2, 2014 10:27 AM