Does Ning Make You Nervous, Too?

October 13, 2009

Posted in Technology and Web Industry.

I recently looked at using Ning to power a private social network, but one little red flag was a deal-breaker. From the Terms of Service:

You hereby grant Ning, during the course of your usage of the Ning Platform, a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, sublicenseable and transferable right and license to (i) use, reproduce, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform and publicly display Your Content (a) for the sole purpose of operating and making Your Content available on the Ning Platform and in all current and future media in which the Ning Platform may now or hereafter be distributed or transmitted or (b) for our internal business purposes; and (ii) disclose metrics regarding Your Content on an aggregated basis for advertising, marketing and business development purposes.

Whoa! So anything you post to Ning is theirs to use as they wish, for as long as they wish? Oddly, Ning opens this section with the line: “Ning does not claim any ownership rights in Your Content.” And then it proceeds to trample that a bunch of ridiculous policies that amount to practically owning your content.

So What?

If you’re just talking about users and their message posts, that’s something you might get over. But what about using this as your own branded network? What about placing your logo or copyrighted imagery in there? In short, Ning would be able to use your logo without your permission. I don’t know about your school, but my employer has a department dedicated to licensing – we don’t let just anyone throw our mark around.

It looks like we’re not the only ones who noticed this, either. Duke University’s Duke Digital Initiative website is built in Ning, and it doesn’t have any official Duke mark or photography.

Duke Digital Initiative.jpg

So what should you do?

If you really want to use Ning, you can either give in and just not worry about the implications of giving up some of your rights. Maybe it doesn’t matter – but if you care about your mark, photography, or other content you might need to design around it. You could build a theme that doesn’t incorporate any of these elements. This is exactly what Duke did, but I find it’s still a little unusual, and unnecessarily limiting.

You could also use any number of other white label social networking platforms to accomplish the same kind of thing. Is this the right thing to do? It depends on your needs.

Maybe white label isn’t that important: one could also point out that the 300+ million users on Facebook don’t already have accounts to your private social network.

1 Comment

  1. Jon Boyd — October 30, 2009

    I am not a lawyer, but the way I read the passage you quoted is considerably less alarming. You say “to use as they wish, for as long as they wish” — but they say “for the SOLE PURPOSE of operating and making your content available” or their “INTERNAL business purposes” (emphasis added). I don’t think they could claim this gives them the right to republish your content however they like.