PageRage vs. Facebook: Online Advertising Legalities

PageRage v. FacebookRemember MySpace? The once-popular exemplar of tricked-out design and customization widgetry? What a relief when we first set our browsers to Facebook, with its sleek, uncluttered interface and quick loading times! But ever since 2008 — when Facebook pulled ahead of MySpace in the traffic race — theme customization apps, like PageRage, have enjoyed a mini renaissance.

PageRage And The Long-Lost Art Of Skinning

A “skin” is a customized interface for a computer program or Web page. Most skins change affect the look and feel; some affect functionality.

What Is PageRage?

PageRage is a free browser plug-in, compatible with Firefox and Internet Explorer, which allows users to change the design of a Facebook page.

Once downloaded, users can choose and install Facebook themes with the click of a button. Other apps that let users skin Facebook include FaceTheme, Boost, and Facebook Styler for Google Chrome.

PageRage makes no actual changes to profile pages.

Facebook’s War On Browser Extensions

Back in 2008, PageRage had a profile on Facebook. It doesn’t any longer. Does that mean Facebook doesn’t support PageRage’s agenda?

Indeed, PageRage’s – and FaceTheme’s fandoms are shrinking, in part because they’re considered, by some, to be classic examples of adware. The McAfee Site Advisor green lights both PageRage and FaceTheme — which doesn’t mean the programs aren’t adware, only that they aren’t malware or spyware.

Is PageRage’s Adware Installation Legal?

Adware is not illegal, per se. Both PageRage and FaceTheme display ads — so the companies claim — to subsidize their services and offer free products. Many argue, however, that the skinning apps are nothing more than adware bait.

The Federal Trade Commission requires brands to disclose adware in either marketing copy or a legally binding end user license agreement (EULA).

Nowhere on PageRage’s site, or in any of its other promotional copy, is the adware mentioned. However, PageRage’s EULA — a click-through bundled with the .exe installer — does contain mention of the ads.

In other words, it would appear the company is in compliance with the FTC’s criteria.

Does Facebook Have Grounds For Legal Action Against PageRage?

Text, images, multimedia, and certain kinds of proprietary programming  — like Java Applets, JavaScripts, and ActiveX scripts — can all be copyrighted, but can you copyright a website’s design?

In theory, yes – but what you’re copyrighting in this instance is not the “design,” per se, but the actual HTML source code and CSS. The easiest way to do this is by embedding some kind of copyright statement into the source code comments. Doing so, however, will not prevent other designers from “borrowing” your source code. The only effective way to protect source code from infringement is by deploying technical measures that hide the code from view.

As we mentioned earlier, PageRage doesn’t maliciously interact with Facebook; it merely tweaks the way Facebook looks on certain browsers. As such, it appears unlikely that Facebook would have any grounds for legal action against PageRage’s developers.

If you have a similar case in which you require legal assistance, contact a lawyer who is knowledgeable in Internet law.

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