You may have seen a post on Facebook or another social network from a friend or a business claiming that they are attaching copyright to all of their posted content and it can’t be used by other people without prior consent. According to Snopes, one such post made its rounds on Facebook in November of 2012 and again in January 2015. If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry because it’ll inevitably pop-up again.
While this type of post can be regulated to the same destination as Email spam, it could lead to the person posting it thinking that their content is protected from outside use when it actually isn’t. Such posts are not legally binding and end up raising questions about how much ownership someone retains when posting content to a social network.
According to Facebook, the service uses what’s called a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license” for all content you post and share on your page. In non-legal terms, it means that Facebook retains the right to use all content you upload to the network without having to pay you for it. However, you are not powerless to Facebook if you want the service to stop using your content. The contract has an out: delete the content. That means Facebook can’t use personal information, pictures, and videos you stored on your account after they are removed.
So if you discover Facebook is using a picture or post of yours and you don’t want them to, just delete all instances of that content stored on your accounts. There are caveats to the license though if someone has shared content that you posted and have since deleted. Facebook retains the license to your content until all shared version of the content are also removed, which could create a headache for copyright holders.
This can be particularly problematic for small to medium businesses that primarily work in a visual medium. For example, Facebook could use a professional photography business’ shared photographs for advertisements and promotional artwork without having to owe the creator royalties. While less easy to exploit, SMBs that post content produced from content writers wanted listings, are also exposing their IP to free use by Facebook. Fortunately, it’s unlikely that your content will be singled out for use, but if you are concerned about your IP and copyrights being compromised, you may want to avoid posting that content on social networks.
Other social networks feature a range of less and more restrictive content licensing rules. For example, Twitter has a licensing agreement that gives the network even more control of posted content than Facebook, including the capacity to redistribute and alter content. Twitter can also share your content with other organizations for any reason. On the other end of the spectrum, Google+ features a license agreement that limits Google’s use of shared content to promoting and developing its own services.
No matter what you post on your profile and your updates, your content copyright license agreement falls back onto the site’s terms of service.
Dan S is a former news journalist turned web developer and freelance writer. He has a penchant for all things tech and believes the person using the machine is the most important element.