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IP Quick Intellect

A closer look at social media T&Cs: Are you sure you still own your IP?

Posted by on 5 Aug 2013

Irrespective of whether you are a start up business or a multi-million dollar corporation, engaging in social media is considered common practice for many businesses these days. There are many PR benefits (and risks) involved when a business makes the decision to jump on the social media band wagon. The primary advantage of engaging in social media is often considered to be the direct and immediate access that an organisation has with its target audience. This can undoubtedly be the quickest (and most cost effective) way to gain direct consumer feedback about particular products and services or simply a great way to help a business build its brand.



But how much attention do you pay to the terms and conditions that you agree to when you sign up to a social media platform? Have you considered what you may be signing away when you sign up to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like? Shortly after its acquisition by Facebook, Instagram became the focus of public outcry late last year when it amended its terms of use so that it had the right to sell users’ photographs to third parties, such as advertisers, with no right of compensation to the user. However, this Intellectual Property policy is far from unique. The somewhat scary reality is that many businesses have handed over their intellectual property rights to some of the largest companies in the world with little or no compensation by signing up to one or more of the variety of social media platforms on offer.


Facebook: a social media case study


Well let’s take a closer look at the fine print of one of the most widely engaged social media platforms: Facebook.


Facebook’s Statement of Rights and responsibilities provides that, by posting any content on its platform (including your intellectual property), you grant Facebook a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use (the uploaded content)”. Whilst it is unlikely that KFC is going to post the recipe to its secret 11 herbs and spices as a status update, it is not unforeseeable that a company would upload its corporate logos (registered or unregistered) or promotional images onto its Facebook page. What you may not have considered is that by the mere act of posting material, grants Facebook a license to use that content in any way and in any context that it chooses. In some circumstances this may achieve a positive outcome for your organisation in the form of free advertising on your behalf. However, there is no guarantee that Facebook’s use of your data will be beneficial to your organisation. Further to this, there is no obligation on Facebook to make any endeavor to prevent harm being caused to your brand or to gain any further consent from you in relation to the manner in which it may choose to use your content. What about if you are unhappy with the way that Facebook has used your material? The core issue here is that you could potentially lose control over how your Intellectual Property is used and have little or no recourse available to you. Of course, you could always delete content that you upload to your chosen social media platform. However, as is the case with Facebook, often the content you upload is retained by your chosen social media vehicle for an undetermined period of time and can therefore be used by that platform even after you have deleted the original post.


What does this mean for your business? While it is unlikely that this examination of social media’s terms of services is going to cause you to delete your accounts and swear off social media for good, you should pay closer attention to the fine print that you are agreeing to. Not all social media platforms are the same and some terms of service are more restrictive than others. This is something worth considering when weighing up which platform you choose to engage with and what content you chose to post.





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