I attended an excellent seminar last month on Social Media and the Law. Run by Stevens & Bolton, a Guildford-based legal firm, the seminar reminded me of a really important fact that I know but hadn’t thought about for a while: most of what you post online as an individual or small business you lose control of and, in some instances, when posting on certain platforms – images or videos on Facebook, for example – you are actually handing over copyright. Did you know that?!
Well if you didn’t, here’s a quick guide to online content ownership:
If you use a third party platform such as WordPress.com, Blogger or Typepad to host your blog, be careful and aware of possible consequences. In the event that the site closes, disappears or is sold you will lose all your content. It’s much better to self host using WordPress.org. You then get all the benefits of SEO on your web domain URL and have control over your content. And don’t forget to back-up your website regularly so you don’t run the risk of losing all your hard earnt blogging efforts if your site is hacked or corrupted.
You may own the content you’ve created, but by agreeing to the terms of a social media site you may be unwittingly granting that site a licence to use your material however it likes! This is most notably true in Facebook’s case.
However, it goes on to say: “For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”
Which means that you own your content, but you cannot control where or how it might be used by Facebook. It is, after all, a free service (for now anyway), so the deal is you have access to a huge social network and a powerful online marketing tool that costs nothing, but your images or videos may be used for other purposes if the content takes Facebook’s fancy! This is a biggie you need to be aware of.
So how do you deal with this situation?
At the end of the day, you don’t own the platform on which you’re posting and you don’t have the automatic right to expect that platform to host your content. Facebook et al cannot guarantee the availability of their service – the associated legal risks would be far too great – so they have to retain the right to delete content or suspend the service.
Google (owner of Blogger) at least promises, within its terms, to give reasonable notice in the event that a service is to be discontinued so that users can retrieve their information. And MySpace had to do a very fast about-turn after it deleted old accounts when it re-launched. But generally, the terms of most social media platforms suggest that users, particularly small business user, could be vulnerable. Imagine building up a huge following on your Facebook business page, all those Likes you’ve racked up over the years, and then overnight the platform is removed. Unless your followers have given you their email addresses you’ve just lost a large chunk of your customer base, and all your hard work will have come to nothing.
My advice would be to always check out the small print of any agreement and if you’re not happy with the terms don’t use that site. If you do, abide by the terms and ensure that you are not risking suspension in any way. And, importantly, don’t rely on a single platform on which to attract customers, spreading the risk across different platforms is by far the safest approach and make sure you convert them into your own email database using your marketing approach.
What’s your experience of online content and copyright? If you have any insights or cautionary tales to share please leave a comment.