Who Owns your Social Media Content?

Posted on 14 February 2013

In a recent story featured in NSW newspapers, a young photographer was shocked to find one of her photographs featured on T Shirts sold by a major retail chain. She is currently locked in a legal battle in the Federal Court with the retail chain for breach of copyright.

We have written previously about Social Media and who owns the contact list you build when employed at a firm (See Social media ownership – who do your contacts really belong to?) but as many people use sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Flickr to share their information and photographs with family and friends, the question of who owns these photographs and other postings on your account comes into play?

The first thing you should ask yourself is “What did I sign up for”? “Did you read the terms and conditions”? Probably not. Facebook’s Terms and Conditions are listed over an eye glazing eight pages. However, did you know that on Facebook, whilst you retain copyright over your uploaded images, your personal photos and information is still owned by Facebook, even after you move on and delete your account. Facebook reserves the right to “use your content in any way it sees fit” and “can transfer or sub-license its rights over a user’s content to another company or organisation if needed” (UK Telegraph).

In the case of Facebook owned Instagram, the company has recently changed its terms and conditions and claims “non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited licence to use, publicly display, reproduce and translate” subscriber’s photos. This means your uploaded photos can be sold to advertisers or an image may be published without your knowledge, let alone your permission. Your uploaded photos or other information may also be used to promote their products.

Flickr on the other hand advises users – “You own your photos: When you upload a photo to Flickr, you retain all the rights and ownership over that photo. You can easily change the type of license you want to apply to your photo with a Creative Commons License and allow for certain uses of the image by others, but by default, your photo is set to “All Rights Reserved.”

So, what does this all mean? The omnipresent electronic media in our lives now sees constant and instant communication via our mobile phones, tablets, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. We email. We text. We send photographs and documents. We tweet to the ether. We constantly share information, videos and photos with no thought as to just who can access this information and how the information or images can be used. We click that box saying “Have you read the terms and conditions”. We tick yes and yawn at the thought of having to wade through the pages of information to read. All you want is to be able to use and share, using whatever application you are setting up. For most people, nothing will ever happen to what you share on your Facebook page or whatever site you are prone to use but you just never know when it may effect you.

All of this said, it is worth remembering a few simple things:

  • The internet is forever and your posts, photographs and information will remain even if you move on and delete your account
  • Because the internet is forever, be appropriate at all times
  • Understand your privacy settings and use them
  • Understand what each platform you use does and has potential to do
  • If you are using social media for your business, take into consideration what you share as you are losing control of your knowledge and product if you share too much on some social media sites. Who do we now know can actually own or take control of your information and intellectual property rights?
  • Protect your privacy and the ownership of your intellectual property and information by not over-sharing on sites not designed for what you are using it for ie Choose the correct platform for the application
  • Don’t abuse someone else’s rights to privacy and ownership of information and intellectual property rights

If you require legal advice should you have a breach of copyright issue, contact Dooley and Associates and one of our team will be happy to assist with your situation.