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Social media platforms – should our uploading be more cautious?

Copyright is a common term. But do we know what it means? Most legal systems define copyright as creators’ right over their literary and artistic works. Thus, in most cases, the creator is the copyright holder, but there are exceptions. For example, employment or other contracts can transfer the right to someone else, or the creator himself can always license their rights.[1] 

The content displayed on social media platforms consists almost entirely of images, videos, and sounds covered by copyright. The terms of service of the largest social media platforms tell us how users should not upload content to a site if it is not their own. If another person files a complaint that you are using their content, Instagram can even ban your account. These terms also contain provisions stating that uploading content to the platform does not remove the copyright from its owner. As a result, influencers still own their content. The situation stays like this in so far as they have signed no co-operation agreement. This agreement may transfer ownership to a partner or to the person who ordered the advertisement or content. Thus, it is difficult to know who owns the content published without knowing whether any agreement has been signed. Luckily, the point of this blog post is not to find out who owns what content but to see the possible problem content creation to these platforms may form to the influencers. [2] 

The user rules of Instagram and TikTok contain, among others, a section that many do not think about when accepting it. This section contains an issue related to the aforementioned licensing option. 

According to TikTok’s terms of services, when a user uses the platform, he automatically accepts  the following term:

you hereby grant an unconditional irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully transferable, perpetual, worldwide licence to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, make derivative works of, publish and/or transmit, and/or distribute and to authorise other users of the Services and other third parties to view, access, use, download, modify, adapt, reproduce, make derivative works of, publish and/or transmit your User Content in any format and on any platform, either now known or hereinafter invented.” [3] 

This term contains an alarming number of words. It gives TikTok the right to do almost anything with the content you create and upload to the platform. For example, they can use user content in their advertisements. It is expected that when opening TikTok to find beginners or already experienced Influencers who try to make their music. These songs, first published on TikTok, can be found on almost every music chart. After reading the terms of services, it is easy to notice the problem. While the influencer still owns the copyright to the song, TikTok can use it without compensation almost anywhere.

Instagram and Facebook do not go as far, but users still give them a license to use their content when using the services. This license includes the use, the act adapting/modifying and displaying/distributing without compensation to the right holder, and the right to transfer and sub-license the content. [4] Due to the fact that these terms of service are very broad, no one can immediately tell you what they exactly include. Therefore, one needs to be careful when uploading any content on these platforms since they may use it the way they seem to fit.

According to the copyright and trademark attorney Eric Perrott, there is not much you can do to protect yourself. The only smart thing to do is not to upload anything valuable or, if needed, at least watermark the content in a not-easily removable way. [5] We could always ask whether we should use more content-creator-friendly platforms. But would this change anything? Changing user agreements is super easy, and thus also the other platforms could include these clauses only with a few clicks. Another way would be to make people aware of the existence of these rules.  Only then, content users can be prepared for everything to come.

[1]https://www.wipo.int/copyright/en/

[2]https://www.tiktok.com/legal/copyright-policy & https://www.sarahchetrit.com/instagram-copyright/

[3]https://www.tiktok.com/legal/terms-of-service?lang=en

[4]https://computing.which.co.uk/hc/en-gb/articles/207101605-Who-owns-your-online-photos

[5]https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2020/02/instagram-doesnt-own-your-photos-but-they-can-still-use-them-forever/

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