Social Media Copyright Boloney and Tenderloin

It is time to have a serving of baloney.

Every now and then a message will spread across a social media site, particularly Facebook, warning that users’ content is up for grabs.  Anyone who does not paste a notice in their timeline warning off copyright thieves may find that their pictures can be republished freely without their permission.

The current panic claims that since Facebook became a public entity, its users’ media have become public property.


It is all baloney.  The status of Facebook as a company does not affect copyright and nothing you write in a status update changes the terms you agreed to when you joined the site.

But it is understandable baloney.

No one ever reads the small print on social media sites any more than they plow through the 30-odd pages of EULA that pops up before each update of iTunes.  Facebook’s privacy policy starts here and runs on for page after page.  And that is before you start playing with the different settings for different lists and types of followers.

So let us keep things simple.

The Bottom Line of the Small Print

Yes, you should read the small print at the bottom of Web pages, especially when you are using social media professionally.  But what you can expect to find on every social media site is this:

  • You retain the copyright over everything you post.
  • The site can use what you post for its own marketing and for no other purpose.
  • No one can republish anything you upload.

In practice, of course, social media does not work that way at all — and it should not.

You want people to share your pictures because that is how your messages go viral.

You want people to retweet your posts because that is how you reach new followers.

You even want people to steal your images and use them on their blog posts when they write about you and discuss your products.

And they will.  If you have uploaded a great image, you can expect that people will share it, copy it, and use it.  They will not ask you and they will not check copyright law (which states that they need to ask you.) They will just go ahead and use it because that is what people do on social media.

That is true whether you are writing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Flickr.  Copyright law ensures that anything you produce belongs to you.  Terms and conditions generally make no attempt to change that setting.  But the practice of social media assumes consent to republish — and you have to assume that people will act on that assumption.


So do not post anything you do not want others to see and copy.  If you have got both a professional Facebook page and a personal timeline, keep your timeline closed and private.  Use the privacy settings to make sure that only your family can see your family shots and only your friends can see your social posts.  Keep anything that might harm your business or your social media work well away from your business page and behind the privacy settings.

Or, better still, do not post it all.  No baloney.

For everything else, post content that you want people to share, and do not worry about the copyright violation when they do.  Just make sure it is tenderloin.

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