The Hazards of Personal Online Publishing: Who Owns Original Content That We Create?

https://i2.wp.com/www4.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Ben+Elowitz+Wetpaint+Entertainment+Celebrates+DO7m8v-d8Mal.jpg

Wetpaint co-founder and CEO Ben Elowitz [ right ] with an unidentified shirtless man emblazoned with the Wetpaint logotype.

Once upon a time about 5-6 years ago, right before I made a commitment to publish via WordPress, I started a wiki on  http://www.wetpaint.com and failed or forgot to read their fine print before I began building content on the site.  This omission on my part would turn out to be a very unfortunate mistake.

Last January 2013 that wiki disappeared and I was never notified of what happened to it, either by phone, mail or email.Any and all attempts to contact Wetpaint went unanswered.

I’ve been trolling the pages of Wetpaint.com now and again since the wiki disappeared, trying to discover what possessed the company to suddenly yank tens of thousands of pages of hundreds of bloggers’ hard work, and disappear it off the internet.  It wasn’t just my wiki which disappeared, it was also the original content of hundreds of other bloggers as well.

As it turns out, my blog / wiki didn’t disappear. It was sold to a guy in Canada [ who, by the molasses-like speed of his page loads, runs a server out of his mom’s basement somewhere ] for an undisclosed sum of money, along with hundreds of other wikis which had been hosted on Wetpaint.  All this I have learned just this morning.

It turns out that my 3,000+ pages of original content, reports, news, opinion and essays which I authored between 2008 – and 2011 on wetpaint.com never actually belonged to me, once the content left my flying fingers and entered onto their servers.

This is what I found this morning in the fine print of the wetpaint.com posted terms of service:

See http://www.wetpaint-inc.com/terms-and-conditions/

9. “You acknowledge and agree that any materials, including but not limited to questions, comments, suggestions, ideas, plans, notes, drawings, original or creative materials or other information, regarding the Site, the Wetpaint or Wetpaint’s products or services that are provided by you in the form of email or other submissions to Wetpaint, or any postings on the Site, are non-confidential and shall become the sole property of Wetpaint. Wetpaint shall own exclusive rights, including all intellectual property rights, and shall be entitled to the unrestricted use and dissemination of these materials for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without acknowledgment or compensation to you.”

But wait: it gets even better. When or if one should have any questions regarding these terms of service, and decide to click the link posted and actually CONTACT Wetpaint about them, here’ what you will get in response:

The "contact us" link at the the bottom of the "Terms of Service" page on wetpaint.com returns a 404 error code. They don't really want to be contacted. But they apparently DO enjoy Hollywood photo shoots with nude male models.

The “contact us” link at the the bottom of the “Terms of Service” page on Wetpaint.com returns a 404 error code. They don’t really want to be contacted. But they apparently DO enjoy Hollywood photo shoots with nude male models.

All of this begs the $64,000 question regarding WordPress. Who owns the rights to what is published on WP and could something like that ever happen on these servers? Today I am trolling the obscure pages of WP this morning, trying to find out.

I’ve been reading some of the articles and essays published by Wetpaint CEO and co-founder Ben Elowitz.  I’m wondering just who exactly profited from the sale of those wikis and what exact sum they were sold for.  More on my latest internet Dick Tracy exercise later as I learn more. Here’s what another blogger decided to do about the hosting of her blog when faced with the dilemma of who owned what she created:  http://www.aroyaldaughter.com/2013/01/04/blogger-vs-wordpress-content-ownership/

A Cautionary Tale for Personal Content Publishers & Bloggers

If you are a blogger, or plan to become a blogger, [ she foolishly advised, realizing that hindsight is indeed truly always 20-20be sure to read the hosting firm’s Terms of Service IN ADVANCE on the blogging platform you choose to go with – before you start publishing.

Then examine the server / blog hosts’ terms of service regarding ownership of originally created content and intellectual property rights of all hosted published content. I personally believe that what Wetpaint.com did was pretty close to criminal, in that they certainly well knew that 80- or 90% of the general public who begin wikis never stop to troll the fine print of the hosting server’s “about” pages to find out whether or not they will own what they create before they start building their site.

Oh, by the way: WordPress is the site host for Ben Elowitz’s personal news blog. Apparently he doesn’t believe in his own company enough to host his personal news blog on it. I found this to be telling.

I would bet that this kind of thing is now rampant on the internet, as hosting companies, social media outlets, blogging platforms and other public servers scramble for the cash to keep the bills paid. A more prominent notice that was sent out in email form just as soon as I opened my wiki account would have been the way for Wetpaint to take the high road in all of this, rather than dumping the January surprise onto hundreds of online publishers and whisking their blogs away to Canada for an undisclosed amount of cash. What a sleazy way to do business on the internet. I can’t say that I wish Wetpaint.com any future good fortune, knowing that they profited from the sale of possibly tens of thousands of pages of user contributed original content recently, that I’m quite sure most of those users thought they owned.

I can only advise a would-be blogger, site designer, wiki publisher et al, that you should choose another blogging platform and skip Wetpaint.com. You won’t own the rights to anything you publish, and they certainly won’t tell you that in advance either, if you didn’t find their Terms of Service page before you began posting and publishing. At any point in time on Wetpaint.com your original material may be removed, deleted, re-packaged, and / or re-sold to another firm without your knowledge or consent, as you won’t own any of it.  Bloggers and online publishers beware.

Ownership of content on WordPress  – links

  1. You own your content – you grant WordPress.com a license to display it – it is covered in the terms of service agreement and I had to read it more than once to figure it out. The display agreement you agreed to is rather broad but the broadness is required to WordPress.com to display and advertise your content.

  2. It should be noted that all “original” content posted by you is yours. If you post something by someone else, it doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to them.

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