1. Ownership of the uploaded content
Of the 5 social media websites we looked at, all provide that the user retains ownership over their uploaded content.
2. Licensing of user content
The duration of the license, in most cases, extends in some form past the date in which a user may delete their account with the website or remove the content from the website. In most cases, the license extends for a commercially reasonable time period for back up, audit, or archival purposes. Some sites, such as Tumblr, extend the license past termination of services for the express purpose of preserving speech, recognizing that in some circumstances removal of user content that has been commented on by others may result in censorship of speech. For Facebook, the license to use user content ends when the user deletes the content or their Facebook account, with a big exception. If the user has shared their content with others, such as by posting the content on another’s wall, the license does not end unless that other party has also deleted it.
3. How the site may use your content
- By social media site: The license granted by the user to the social media site typically allows the site to display, reproduce, modify, or distribute the content. Some sites expressly limit this use of the content for the purposes of operation, improvement of new services, and/or development of new services. Modification, such as recoding or reformatting, is also typically allowed to make sure that the content conforms with the service being offered.
- By third parties: Once you have uploaded content onto a social media site, other users of the website may see that content and may be permitted to use the content within the website, all subject to any privacy or use setting you may have attached to your account. In addition, several sites rely on advertising revenue and will make the use of their site conditional on an agreement to allow third party companies to place their advertisements on or in conjunction with user uploaded content. When it comes to third parties actually being able to use your content, social media sites vary in their provisions. Facebook, for example, does not giver user content to third parties without the user’s consent. Twitter’s license, however, allows them to make the content you have submitted available to other companies, organizations, or individuals that partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution, or publication of the content on other media and services, without first obtaining your consent. On Tumblr, the license granted allows Tumblr to make all publicly-posted material available to third parties selected by Tumblr for the purpose of analyzing and/or distributing the content on other media or services.
4. Liability for Copyright Infringement
Another common provision affecting a user’s copyrighted work is the limitation of liability for social media sites when it is discovered that a user’s protected work is being used on the site, by a third party, and without the user’s permission. In this situation the user may not have any recourse against the website for their role in allowing an opportunity for infringement. This is because many of these social media sites fall within the definition of “service provider” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Under the DMCA, if these sites comply with certain take down provisions upon being notified of an infringing use, they may be able to escape secondary liability.
Maria Scheid is a legal intern at the Copyright Resources Center at OSU Libraries and is currently a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.