If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably seen people flocking to Bluesky, a social platform hailed as a promising alternative to the now-ailing bird app. It looks nearly identical to Twitter, was initially funded by Twitter, and calls itself a “social network for microblogging” which, huh, is funny because that’s exactly what Twitter is. Anyway! Before you go running for Bluesky’s greener pastures, it’s important to know what you’re agreeing to when you sign up for the platform.
Bluesky currently owns everything you post
On Thursday Apr. 27, Twitter user Ashley Gjøvik tweeted about Bluesky’s disconcertingly broad terms of service. She tweeted several screenshots of the terns, including a snippet that reads “If you post any content to the Bluesky Web Services, you hereby grant Bluesky and its licensees a worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive right and license to use, reproduce, publicly display, publicly perform, modify, sublicense, and distribute the content, on or in connection with the Bluesky Web Services.”
In plain English that means: we own everything you post.
Rose Wang, who works in Strategy and Operations at Bluesky according to her LinkedIn profile, replied to Gjøvik’s screenshots with an explanation of how Bluesky’s team intends to interpret the terms: “In order for us to operate, we need to be able to promote the app,” wrote Wang.
“That means, we will take screenshots of Bluesky, which will include your users’ content. That said, we have explicitly told our community that if we are using your content in a way you disapprove of, please email us… and we’ll do our best to honor your wishes. Bluesky was created so that users own their data, devs will never be locked out of the ecosystem, and creators can always own the relationship with their users… Thus, we are doing our best as [a] team to honor our ethos… Soon, our ToS will spell out use cases to mitigate confusion.”
That all sounds nice. But Terms of Service agreements amount to a binding contract, and tweets claiming a company is “doing [its] best” to use your content a certain way do not.
These terms are harsh, even compared to Facebook
Let’s take a look at Facebook’s terms of service, which are much more nuanced in their explanation of user rights. “You retain ownership of the intellectual property rights,” the terms page reads. “Nothing in these Terms takes away the rights you have to your own content… However, to provide our services we need you to give us some legal permissions (known as a ‘license’) to use this content.”
The Facebook terms document then outlines what is covered by the license, and notes that it only applies “specifically when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights on or in connection with our Products.” The document also provides a helpful example: if you post a photo, you grant Facebook certain necessary permissions, allowing Facebook’s parent company Meta to duplicate it, store it, and share it with others in ways “consistent with your settings.” Reassuringly, it notes that the license you grant “will end when your content is deleted from our systems.”
Bluesky may just be protecting itself because it’s new
In comparison to Facebook’s terms, Bluesky’s read like a first draft put in place to satisfy a legal team, probably so the platform could start onboarding users and, for her part, the CEO has claimed this is essentially what happened. You know what they say in tech: move fast, break things, and claim ownership of your users’ content!
Wang’s replies point to another sticky subject: copyright. “We must protect ourselves,” she wrote. Journalists, according to Wang, have been “taking screenshots of the app and putting it into their publications,” and the terms need to make it possible to “transfer rights to license content to them.” In the case of moderation, Wang said, copyright once again comes into play. Bluesky must be able to legally transfer content to moderators “so that they can scan through content” and sift out objectionable material.
These terms might have downsides for Bluesky itself
But owning user content, and being able to transfer rights to that content, may mean BlueSky is not protected by the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Under the DMCA, safe harbor protection goes away if a company has the “right and ability to control” copyright-infringing content and can potentially profit off of it. That means these terms leave Bluesky vulnerable to costly copyright infringement litigation, which would sap the fledgling app’s potential.
For all its promise, Bluesky is still very much a work in progress. And while it’s never fun to read the fine print, it’s worth taking a quick look before handing over your content to Bluesky.
Mashable has reached out to Bluesky’s CEO for comment, and will update if we hear back.