fence 7-001We’re still looking at who owns data. In the Ownership Interests post, we talked about contracts as one way of giving and getting ownership. Terms of Service or User Agreements are a kind of contract that describes who owns what. They almost all say that you own the content you create on the site– they pretty much have to say that  under copyright law. Then they say that you give them a license to do anything they want with that content and anything else they learn about your use of the site.

A license is when you give someone permission to use your stuff. When you buy software, you don’t really own the software itself. You get a license to use it. It’s the same with a movie, game, song, or book you download. You are not buying the words and music of the song. You are just buying the right to use or play a copy of it.

Linkedin’s User Agreement goes even further. It says that you own your content and give Linkedin an unlimited right to use it. Then it also says that between you and Linkedin, your account is owned by Linkedin. Yep. You own the content, but Linkedin owns the account. Except when somebody else sues Linkedin about something involved with your account. Then you own the account. How does this make sense? It doesn’t. Not really. But what they are trying to do is separate the rights and liabilities so that Linkedin gets all the rights and you end up with all the liabilities.

They will tell you this is okay because they are simply providing the platform for your use and are not involved in what you do or don’t do on Linkedin. The problem though, is that they also have numerous Do’s and Don’ts and a right to change the rules any time, for any reason. I was at a recent recruiting conference and heard several tales of Linkedin restricting people’s accounts for reasons that didn’t seem fair. But they were probably within their rights under the User Agreement.

So it’s worth looking at what you get and what they get when you sign up for Linkedin.

Basically, Linkedin gets an unlimited license to use anything connected to your account.

The agreement applies to “any information you provide, directly or indirectly to Linkedin, including but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques and/or data.”

This means Linkedin can do whatever it wants with your content and the data related to your account.

You own the information you provide. You are legally responsible for everything related to your account. And you get an extremely limited license to use Linkedin, which Linkedin can take away whenever it wants.

This means you have to do whatever Linkedin wants.

Here is a chart that compares Linkedin’s license to use your stuff with your license to use Linkedin.

What Linkedin Gets What it Means What You Get What it Means
You grant Linkedin a license that is: Linkedin grants you a license that is:
nonexclusive Other people can have a license to use your content/information/data too. nonexclusive Other people can have a license to use Linkedin too
irrevocable You can’t take the license away. Ever. You can only delete  your content and ask them to remove your account. revocable Linkedin can take away your right to use Linkedin any time for any violation of the User Agreement including inviting someone you don’t know to connect, a bunch of other stuff and “any other behavior that Linkedin, in its sole discretion deems contrary to its purpose,” whatever the hell that means.
worldwide anywhere apparently nowhere
perpetual forever apparently at their whim
unlimited no restrictions limited lots of restrictions
assignable Linkedin can give or sell the license you gave it to someone else to use your stuff. nonassignable you can’t let anyone else use your Linkedin account.
sublicensable Linkedin can give or sell the license you gave it to someone else to use your stuff. nonsublicensable you can’t let anyone else use your Linkedin account.
fully paid up They paid you? Really? They didn’t pay me when I signed up. So this must be legalese for no particular useful purpose.
royalty free They don’t have to pay you in the future to use your stuff or pay you a percentage if they sell your stuff to someone else.


Then you give Linkedin the rights to use your information and data to: “copy, prepare derivative works, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze and commercialize in any way now known or in the future discovered.

So Linkedin gets to use your information, behavior, connections, clicks, or anything else they can find to make money in any way they want.

In exchange, you get to use Linkedin, maybe free of charge, depending on your account.

And if there is a dispute, you are responsible to everybody else. But if you have a problem with Linkedin, it  limits its liability to $100 or 5x your most recent monthly subscription fee (whichever is greater, how generous).

Are these agreements enforceable? Most of the terms are. Even though they seem one-sided and unfair, there is no requirement that you sign up and use Linkedin, even if you are a recruiter. There may be other laws or policies that conflict with the terms. And we will be looking at some of those in this series.

So remember: When the service is free, the product is you.

Here’s the rest of the series on data ownership:

We also looked at Facebook’s Terms of Service Translated

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