Responsive and responsible developers: a tale of Twitter
Thanks to a March 14 exchange on Twitter, I learned about colwiz, a research and collaboration tool being developed in the UK. It’s pretty slick, and clearly has found popularity among researchers in short order. Being a copyright/intellectual property geek, I went first to their terms of service and read up. As I replied via Twitter:
Perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free for any medium forever and ever? Pretty bad stuff, really, from a tool developed by researchers for researchers. Even sites such as flickr demand far fewer freedoms from their users. Moreover, this conflicts with allowing researchers to license their material as they see fit, e.g.- attaching a Creative Commons license. It’s much worse than the copyright transfers that publishers (still!) ask academic authors to sign; at least those are explicit. Will this have practical consequences for most users of colwiz? Perhaps not, but it makes the text no less questionable.
Whatever personal data and original content you upload to your Mendeley account is owned by you. We do not claim any ownership rights over your research.
… we reserve the right to disclose your personal information in order to enforce or apply our Terms of Service or to protect the security and integrity of the site and the services, or to protect the rights property or safety of colwiz …
Given that their Terms of Service grants them broad rights to original content, this essentially permits them not only to use it, but to use it in association with one’s name. Again, the practical consequences may rarely or seldom arise, but why leave open such a door for a tool designed for people doing original research? Close it, and reaffirm the users’ right to their own intellectual labor.
Within mere minutes after I had posted my concern about #11 in their TOS, the founder and CEO of colwiz, Tahir Mansoori, had replied via Twitter:
Hooray, so I thought. Score one for reading the fine print. Alas, now over six weeks later, the same clause appears in the TOS. Tahir did note on March 28th that they are working on a revision that would take a “bit longer,” but that was a month ago. I’ve debated for the last week or so whether I should wait and write that “way to go, colwiz” post or write this post instead to spur them along a bit in my own small way. Clearly I’ve opted for the latter, not least because I believe that the colwiz team wants to do the right thing and just needs to know that this matters to at least some users who read the fine print.
It’s horribly tedious and boring to read the myriad click-through licenses and contracts to which one consents, but when it comes to one’s own intellectual property and/or artistic creations, it pays to know what the myriad platforms we use to share/organize/create/etc. allow themselves to do with our output.
Let’s hope this story has a happy ending.