In the framework of another project, we had this crazy task to teach teenagers about intellectual property. How are we supposed to catch teenager’s interest when touching such a complicated (and sometimes boring) topic? We decided to combine IP with themes from their everyday lives, one of them being social media. Then I thought, well if it is an interesting topic, let’s expand the talk to the blog.
Everyone has been in the situation of having to look for images, inspiration or content for an article, publication, presentation, thesis, report... And I think everyone is aware that we should abide by copyright law. Indeed, you cannot just take images and content off of social media feeds and use them as your own. If lucky, you will only be asked to take the content down. If not, the right holder might actually exercise its rights and defend its creation.
Some might have this strange belief that once you post something on social media, it’s out there and free to use by anyone. But the internet has rules and countries laws that you need to abide by. Also, if this content was free to use, why would you need to agree to the terms and conditions to use a social media platform?
Copyright is the most important IP right applicable to social media. Unlike other IP rights, copyright arises automatically from the creation of the work. Unlike the US, there is no official copyright registration office. The owner of the copyright is usually the creator (for works created by employees, it is a more complicated situation as rules may vary from one Member State to another).
Here copyright will protect:
- Photographs or images uploaded to social media.
- Music. Just as you cannot use an image that does not belong to you, you will not be able to use or share an entire song. You will be able to share a clip as long as you properly identify the author of the song.
- Text. Although an Instagram post can be as deep or as shallow as the author wants, this text is still protected by copyright and it cannot be copied by third parties without the author’s authorization.
If any of the above does not belong to you, then you cannot post it on your feed as yours. You will need to get permission or a license from the right holder allowing you to do so. If you do not have permission, then you are infringing somebody’s copyright.
Social Media and Copyright
Although when agreeing to the terms and conditions of a social media platform you are allowing them to reuse your content this doesn’t override copyright laws. When you sign these contracts, you retain copyright but you are granting Facebook, Twitter or any other platform a non-exclusive and unlimited license to use your material. These terms are actually necessary to allow social media to function the way they are supposed to.
HOWEVER, this does not mean that content on social media is copyright free. The license agreement you signed is between you and the social media platform, just as you could have signed a license agreement with any other third party while retaining rights over your creation.
Therefore, whenever you agree to the terms and conditions of a social media platform, make sure you fully understand what you are agreeing to. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Twitter, Facebook and TikTok terms of service.
Twitter’s Terms of Service state that:
You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). This license authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.
Although most tweets aren’t literary masterpieces, they still belong to their author, who owns their copyright. Threads can be turned into blog posts by their creators or even by third parties, and even individual tweets can have significant meaning and money-making potential. Even the few sentences of a tweet are copyrighted material.
According to Facebook’s terms:
You own the intellectual property rights (things like copyright or trademarks) in any such content that you create and share on Facebook and the other Facebook Company Products you use. 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.
Specifically, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content. This license will end when your content is deleted from our systems.
As you can see, these terms are quite similar to the ones used by Twitter. Facebook just went the extra mile to make sure that these licensing terms are easily understandable to the average user.
TikTok’s conditions of use state that:
You or the owner of your User Content still own the copyright in User Content sent to us, but by submitting User Content via the Services, you hereby grant us an unconditional, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully transferable, perpetual worldwide licence to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, make derivative works of, publish and/or transmit, and/or distribute and to authorise others users of the Services and other third parties to view, access, use, download, modify, adapt, reproduce, make derivative works of, publish and/or transmit your User Content in any format and on any platform, either now known or hereinafter invented.
You further grant us a royalty-free license to use your user name, image, voice, and likeness to identify you as the source of any of your User Content.
For the avoidance of doubt, the rights granted in the preceding paragraphs of this Section include, but are not limited to, the right to reproduce sound recordings (and make mechanical reproductions of the musical works embodied in such sound recordings), and publicly perform and communicate to the public sound recordings (and the musical works embodied therein), all on a royalty-free basis. This means that you are granting us the right to Use your User Content without the obligation to pay royalties to any third party, including, but not limited to, a sound recording copyright owner ( e.g. , a record label), a musical work copyright owner ( e.g. , a music publisher), a performing rights organization, a sound recording PRO (e.g. , SoundExchange), any unions or guilds, and engineers, producers or other royalty participants involved in the creation of User Content.
As you can see TikTok’s terms are different from Twitter and Facebook due to the nature of the platform. Indeed, here, by uploading content on TikTok you will grant a license not only to TikTok but also to other users and third parties to do a lot of things such as use, download, modify and even make derivative works of it. Please note the end of the sentence where you are granted the license to TikTok and third parties to use your content not only on any existing platform but also on any platform that will be invented.
Finally, and given the very nature of the app you are also granting a license to TikTok to use your name, image, voice and likeness to identify you as the creator of the content.
Protecting Your Own Content on Social Media