User-generated content is all the rage these days on the web. While creating a site where most of the content is created by users is certainly the trendy approach, one question that we need to answer is who owns the content? Is it the user or the site owner?
Just what is user-generated content? Well, consider a site such as Facebook. Almost all of the content published on Facebook is created by users. Think about it. When you look at your Facebook page, how much of the information is produced by Facebook? Everything you read is coming from a third source whether it is you or some other content provider. It is a brilliant business model.
You can’t understate the value of user-generated content. To understand why just consider an issue like search engine optimization. Google looks at over 200 different factors in determining how to rank sites. A couple of the factors are clearly how often the site adds content and how much of the content is unique.
Wikipedia is a platform full of user-generated content and is updated multiple times every day by users. Where do we find Wikipedia in the search engine results? If there is a page in Wikipedia for the keyword in question, you can expect to see that Wiki page in the top five positions in the search results.
User-generated content can involve a number of different legal subjects. The most common and obvious is the issue of copyright.
As the names suggest, a copyright is the right to copy a work. When Stephen King writes a new novel, he owns the right to reproduce the book and sell it. The copyright is affixed automatically when King finishes the book. While it is true that filing for copyright with the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress is a smart move, it is not necessary to perfect a copyright.
This creates an interesting conundrum when it comes to user-generated content sites. This conundrum also answers our central question. The person who creates the material in question is the owner of that content.
As I write this, Lance Armstrong is being stripped of his titles for the Tour de France because of doping allegations. Let’s assume I log into my Facebook account and write a passionate defense of him in a post. People agree with the post and share it with their friends. Who owns the written text in the post? I do. Conversely, Facebook has no ownership rights in that text. Then how can Facebook use the comment without paying a royalty? We find the answer in the Terms of the site.
Forming A Contract
Nobody Read Terms
A common argument I hear from webmasters and site owners goes something like this:
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.