Many of us overlook the terms and conditions for social media websites that we use and yet this is what determines our legal relationship with them. If you are using social media as a way to promote and advertise your work, then it is important you understand what you are signing up to.
Of course this is easier said than done and quite often the legal jargon can be a barrier to understanding the terms and conditions and knowing what rights you could be signing away. That’s why in unpacking of our last article on social media, we have put together this fact-sheet to highlight the key things you need to know.
When you sign up for a social media account you will be asked to agree to the website’s standard terms and conditions. These not only govern what type of content you may post on the website, but also how that content may be used by that website and others. If you intend to promote your work through social media, the website terms may require that you do this in a specified area (e.g. Facebook pages) or with a different type of account (such as a business account instead of a normal user account, e.g. Pinterest). You should also be aware that certain content may not be permitted on the website, e.g. nudity and other extremely graphic images or depictions of violence.
Who owns the rights to creative content posted on social networking media websites?
Copyright generally belongs to the creator – unless there is an agreement to the contrary or it is created in the course of employment in which case the employer will own the copyright in the work. As the copyright owner, you own the exclusive rights to reproduce, copy, communicate, distribute and license your creation as you see fit. While you generally retain the copyright, once you post your work on these websites you effectively grant a license for your work to be used in accordance with their terms and conditions.
What is a licence?
A licence simply grants someone permission to use your content in a specified way for a specified purpose. It is still, however, a binding contract so it is vital to be aware of the terms applicable to the user and host. When you grant a license you still retain the copyright to all of your content. This differs from an ‘assignment’ where the copyright is permanently transferred to someone else.
Legal wording - what to look out for in the terms and conditions When agreeing to a social media website’s terms and conditions, you are effectively confirming the terms of their license. This licence is legally binding.
You may come across any of the following words or phrases:
* ‘Non-exclusive’: this means that you are free to upload or licence
l ‘Royalty-free’: this means that the service provider doesn’t need to pay you for the right to use your work, even if the service provider uses your content commercially. If the licence is non-exclusive, you are of course free to license the same work to others and ask them to pay for the usage.
l ‘Sub-licensable’: this means that the licensing party can grant rights of use to other parties. This is essential for social media websites because users would not otherwise be able to share your content with other users or repost it.
l ‘Modification’: websites request this right to adjust the size or display properties of the image for example. However this could potentially include other modifications you might not have approved of otherwise.
l ‘Incorporation into other works’: this grants the right for your content to be used as part of other copyright works, for example, a photograph representing the website that includes your content. You would still retain the copyright in your content, however a separate copyright could also exist in the new work.
l ‘Perpetual’: this does not necessarily mean “forever” if there are provisions made for termination. In such a situation the license may continue indefinitely until it is terminated.
l ‘Irrevocable’: this means you technically cannot terminate the licence. However other terms, such as a “specified termination condition”, may decide whether it really is non-terminable in all situations. For example, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Flickr currently require you to grant them a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide licence to use your copyright protected works. These licences are therefore extremely wide, mainly because the model allows users to share and reproduce that content across the website. One of the key terms to look out for is the purpose for which a licence is granted. This may be specified as “for the sole purpose of promoting the website” or, a purpose may not be specified at all. It is worth noting whether the purpose of a licence includes commercial use of copyright protected work.
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