Debunking Paypal User Agreement Furor

There’s a whole lot of wild dismay circulating the web this month about a new paragraph in Paypal’s user agreement. If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry – it’s not worth your time. But if you want more confirmation that the world is rapidly getting sillier, here’s the scoop. Frantic fear mongers are picking up extra traffic for their blogs by claiming that Paypal is asserting ownership over all your intellectual property if you use the online payment service. In other words, if you own a blog (in which case, be very surprised if anyone *wants* what you’re publishing in the first place), sending your nephew a few dollars toward that bike he can’t afford means Paypal now *owns* all those late night rants about global warming you’ve been putting out to your 15-person subscriber base.

I’m NOT laughing at people who read user agreements!

Most of us know that there’s some truth to most conspiracy theories. The Reichstag Fire didn’t happen by accident (sorry, holocaust deniers!), and the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” (as though the North Vietnamese had a Navy) is pretty much a high ranker on the historical BS meter. But when a theory defies common sense and would pretty much result in the unraveling of the civilized world (like claiming fluoridated water is a mind control agent, or the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to take over your local elections), it’s likely to be sensationalized horse hooey. Look closely at the paragraph below (emphasis mine):

“When providing us with content or posting content (in each case for publication, whether on- or off-line) using the Services, you grant the PayPal Group a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sublicensable (through multiple tiers) right to exercise any and all copyright, publicity, trademarks, database rights and intellectual property rights you have in the content, in any media known now or in the future. Further, to the fullest extent permitted under applicable law, you waive your moral rights and promise not to assert such rights against the PayPal Group, its sublicensees or assignees. You represent and warrant that none of the following infringe any intellectual property right: your provision of content to us, your posting of content using the Services, and the PayPal Group’s use of such content (including of works derived from it) in connection with the Services.”

Slow down, read around the parentheses! Then read the parentheses.

Essentially, what Paypal is saying is that if you create, for example, a product description in your Paypal account to go with your online store, and then embed that store on a web page, it’s OK for Paypal to have that product description in your account where you put it and display it on the web page where you embedded it. Facebook, WordPress, and most other content companies have similar clauses. Here’s why they need them: people aren’t very bright sometimes, and technology often becomes a justification for being even more paranoid and clueless. So someone posts content in a public facing venue, and then decides they didn’t mean to, claims they didn’t know what they were doing, or just forgets about it. The providers of said venue need a clause that says “You can’t sue us for your own stupidity.” Of course, Paypal said it much more nicely than that.

The conspiracy theorists have created the conspiracy.

So, in short, the hoopla over Paypal this month is coming from exactly the kind of bewildered mentality that causes Paypal to *need* such a clause in their user agreement in the first place. Congratulations, conspiracy theorists; you’ve illustrated Paypal’s point perfectly! Until there are people that understand hot coffee is served hot, and you shouldn’t give your kids plastic bags as toys (because they might put them over their heads), we’re going to have warning labels. Not because the species can’t afford to lose said kids, from an evolutionary perspective, but so people don’t go suing Juan Valdez or anyone who asks “would you like a bag with that?” Paypal’s user agreement clause is the virtual equivalent of a warning label. The propensity of technological neophytes and self-appointed researchers to misinterpret their environment is a good chunk of what Wendy Grossman’s book Net.Wars (NYU Press) talked about in 1997. You can’t come traipsing into a new and unfamiliar environment and react to everything as you would phenomena in your own living room, even if you’re sitting in your own living room.

Getting back on track, and yes I still use Paypal.

The best advice I can give anyone who routinely gets sucked into these panic button moments is stop listening to people who don’t know what they’re talking about. And if a source presses the panic button too often, or exists almost entirely to press a new panic button every month, stop being manipulated. Instead of looking to have your worst expectations confirmed, reach for the circumspection and skepticism your better self will provide you. Refuse to get alarmed and merely ask, “What could this mean, if it wasn’t a big deal?” If you can come up with at least one or two reasons why it might not be a big deal, it’s not a big deal. You’ll be right more often than not. Now let us return to preparing for the zombie apocalypse, which is really where our attention belongs.

If you want to start earning more through PayPal, contact MadPipe today. We’ll help you come up with a strategy and put together a dream marketing team.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.

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