Friday, July 06, 2012

Great site, offensively dumb terms of use

I like PaperbackSwap a lot, and have successfully used it to get books and to send books: I like knowing there's a high chance the recipient actually wants the book.  However, as I was considering joining the sister DVD swapping site, I checked the terms of use, and they manage to be so bad even by the standards of terms of use that I couldn't finish signing up.  Of course there are the usual "we can do anything and you can't do anything about it"; that doesn't even register with me these days.  But this:
14. Distribution of Site Materials, Posted ItemsYou agree not to post, transmit, link to, or otherwise distribute to the Site or site materials, including but not limited to, product lists and program terms.
17. Copyrighted Materials
These Terms of Use and other written, graphic, and pictorial materials on this site are fully protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Duplication, distribution, or other use of these materials without express written permission of National Book Swap is expressly prohibited. Any reproduction, storage, transmission, or other use of the materials on this site, including, but not limited to these Terms of Use, without the express written permission of National Book Swap will result in substantial civil and criminal liability.
Okay, ignore the incoherent "to" after the "distribute" in 14.  The terms purport to disallow links to the site, which seems kind of 1998 to me, and also to ban quotation of the terms of use (assuming that's what "program terms," an otherwise undefined phrase, means--oops).  But because it's a website that benefits from people knowing about it, on the front page, it touts ... media that have linked to the site:
Oh look, there's a Wikipedia entry.  A Chronicle of Higher Education blog entry too.

There may be a germ of an idea there: possibly the site doesn't want other sites reposting the lists of books available on PaperbackSwap's site, in order to control the data mining possibilities. Not the friendliest approach, but not without a rationale; but these aren't the provisions to accomplish that particular task. And of course, huge amounts of the content on the site are ... thumbnails of book covers, in which the site has no exclusive rights and is unlikely to be able to grant "express written permission" to use. I could go on, but: it is surely possible to write website-friendly and user-unfriendly terms of use that aren't this dumb. (I mean, why not go whole hog and say "and if we send you a C&D that's copyrighted too and you're not allowed to post it!") I sure hope I'm not subject to "criminal liability" for saying so!

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