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With the advent of the Internet a slew of “virtual” legal problems have arisen that could not have been dreamed about before the technology existed. Most of the issues revolve around an individual’s privacy and property rights. The battleground is often social media sites or smart phone apps which have “terms of service” (TOS) agreements which most users simply click without a second thought.

I minor furor erupted in late 2009 when Nuance Communications released its Dragon Dictation app for the iPhone. What most users failed to immediately understand was that the voice transcription app would upload all the names from your e-mail address book to the company’s server – ostensibly to assist the program in identifying names when spoken. After a public backlash, the company amended this policy allowing for an “opt out” of the feature.

At the end of this past year, another controversy arose where the photo-sharing service Instagram (recently acquired by Facebook) issued a new TOS where it has “the right to license all public photos to companies or organizations, as well as use them for advertising.” As a backlash many user have flocked to rival service Flickr.

Whereas the old saying was “life imitates art,” today its been modified to “real life imitates cyber-life.” The rush to stake a claim to intellectual property has now spilled out from the world of servers and megabytes to the land of crayons and construction paper.

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the county board of education has put forth a plan that would “copyright work created by staff and students for school” which could conceivably include “a picture drawn by a first-grader, a lesson plan developed by a teacher or an app created by a teen would belong to the school system, not the individual.”

More than ever, people need to be aware of the risk of alienating their rights to their intellectual and electronic property. There are inherent dangers in merely clicking “I Agree” to every program and service that you use. If you feel that you would not want to alienate your intellectual and electronic property rights through using a service or program, you need to slog through the TOS, or at a very minimum search the Internet to see if someone has posted a synopsis of the relevant provisions. If not, you might find your picture in an advertisement when you really had no intention so do so.

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