User-generated content is all the rage these days on the web. While creating a site where users create most of the content is undoubtedly the contemporary approach, one topic we need to address is user-generated content ownership. Is it the user or the site owner?
Just what is user-generated content? Well, consider Facebook. Users create almost all of the material published on Facebook. Think about it. Look at your Facebook page. How much of the information is Facebook producing? Everything you read is coming from a third source whether 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, consider an issue like search engine optimization. Google looks at over 200 different factors in determining how to rank sites. A couple of the elements 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 many different legal subjects. The most common when determining user-generated content ownership is 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 copyright.
This creates an interesting problem 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, authorities are stripping Lance Armstrong 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. People agree with the post and share it with their friends. Who owns the written text in the post? I do. 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:
There is little doubt that user-generated content sites are here to stay. If you have one or are considering opening one, it is vital that you understand the copyright is a huge issue impacting user-generated content ownership. Members own the copyright to the content they publish on the website. You must obtain a license clarifying the use of the user-generated content.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.
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