Social media has revolutionized both the web and the world over the last 10 years. One needs only look at the Arab Spring to realize as much. This doesn’t mean there are no legal factors one has to take into account when dealing with this relatively new medium. In this post, we take a look at social media copyright issues.
There are highly technical definitions of copyright, but I prefer to go with something a bit simpler so the concept is easier to understand. Copyright is simply the right to copy and distribute a tangible work. For example, I have the right to copy this post and distribute it since I am the creator of the artistic work. [Look mom, I’m an artist!]
What about you? Do you have the right to copy and distribute this article? No. The only exceptions would be if you were to use it for a newsworthy purpose, as part of an education effort or a few other minor purposes.
Does this mean you more or less can never use this content? No. You can offer to buy or license the content from me. Licensing is the most common approach. Consider software. Software is a copyrighted work with the actual lines of code being is copyrighted. When you “buy” a computer program or app, you are not buying ownership of the work. Instead, you are buying a license giving you the right to use it on a device. Fascinating, no?
What does any of this have to do with social media? Social media sites and systems are user-generated content platforms. This simply means the users of the sites upload their own content.
Consider Facebook, for example. You provide written content in your account and can upload other content such as images. You are generating this content, which is where the “user-generated content” name originates.
Social media copyright issues arise when a person uploads something they did not create, do not own or did not obtain permission to use to a social media account. For example, let’s assume I see an amazing photograph while browsing through Google images. I save the image to my computer and then post it my Facebook page. I’ve just committed copyright infringement.
Why? I’ve copied and distributed the photograph without the permission of the photographer. The fact I found it through the Google image search engine doesn’t circumvent copyright.
So, where does the liability arise in this situation? Is Facebook liable for copyright infringement along with me? The answer depends on whether the company has complied with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. With a name like that, it should be no surprise everyone refers to the law as the DMCA.
The DMCA is the reason social media sites exist. It provides a “safe harbor” to such sites in regard to copyright issues. Specifically, social media sites cannot be sued for copyright infringement based on content uploaded by users so long as the sites take steps such as designating a DMCA agent to receive copyright complaints. The regulations are detailed and beyond the scope of this article, but it goes without saying you should contact me to discuss DMCA compliance if you are considering opening a social media site.
And what about the user who posted the infringing content? They have no protection. Having said this, the DMCA helps them indirectly because the “penalty” for their transgression usually ends up being the simple removal of the content.
Social media copyright issues continually arise. The key to dealing with them for sites is to be proactive and get into compliance with the DMCA. For individuals, the key is to avoid posting anything you don’t own or have a right to post.
Feel free to contact me today to learn more.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.
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