Microblog platform Weibo caused an uproar among netizens late last week after its updated user agreement informed users that they could not share their content on other apps.
The rule change follows an ongoing dispute between Weibo and Toutiao, a popular media aggregator that Weibo accused of appropriating its content without authorization. Toutiao had asked its own users to allow automatic reposting of their Weibo articles on Toutiao.
On Friday night, Weibo users were shown a pop-up window asking them to agree to the platform’s updated terms, which stated that Weibo has exclusive rights over content on its platform. The update also clarified that users could not authorize third-party platforms to use any Weibo content without express written permission from Weibo.
Weibo users were up in arms about the new terms, which they regarded as unfair. The top comment under an explanatory post sent by Weibo’s administrator account, liked over 27,000 times by Tuesday, reads: “Did you pay royalties to users? On what basis should users’ works posted on Weibo be your copyright????”
“Apart from providing a platform for these works, do you contribute a single penny to their production?” another user wrote. “And even having the nerve to say you’re protecting user rights — it’s really shameless!”
On Saturday, Weibo published a clarifying post and a Q&A reassuring netizens that they still hold the copyright to their posts, although Weibo as the host platform also holds some usage rights. It clarified that users could only authorize other platforms to “illegally” acquire already-posted content with written permission from Weibo. “Illegally” acquiring content, it clarified, referred to using “programming or non-normal browsing and other technological methods to obtain content.”
The new terms also incited discussion among media and legal experts. On Saturday, Beijing lawyer Yi Shenghua posted a commentary to Weibo in which he argued that although internet users have copyright of all content they produce, Weibo should also have some rights over the content, given that it invests a lot of resources to maintain the platform.
This “right,” Yi explained, means “the right to not have the content on your website automatically acquired by search engines or content-gathering platforms, which is in [Weibo’s] legitimate commercial interest and should be protected.”
But Zhao Zhanling, a copyright lawyer at Zhilin Law Firm in Beijing, told Sixth Tone that the clause restricting users from having their content posted to other platforms infringes their rights as copyright holders. Such contract terms that infringe upon a user’s legal rights are referred to as “hegemon clauses” in China, he said.
However, Zhao added that Weibo’s posting functions are part of its core competitiveness, and require considerable labor and financial resources to maintain. “Even if users agree or grant such rights, third parties cannot use tools or other technology to automatically acquire information sent by users, which constitutes unfair competition,” said Zhao.
Mu Jiashuo, who runs a Weibo account related to the video game “Dota 2,” said that while the new terms prevent third parties from using Weibo content, the problem of content theft within Weibo remains unsolved. “These new measures are quite beneficial to Weibo － they’re not at all created with the users in mind,” said Mu.
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: The icon for the Weibo microblog app is displayed on a mobile phone in Jinan, Shandong province, Nov. 22, 2016. Tai Shan/IC)