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Who owns your social media content?

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It might not be who you think, write Leanne van Breda, associate, and Tracy Cohen, director in Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr’s convergence and new media practice.

More often than not, people sign up for social media accounts without reading the particular platform’s terms of service. As a result, they are usually completely unaware of the conditions of use or the rights they have signed away in order to create their profile.

Have you ever stopped to consider who owns your Facebook account or your Instagram profile picture?  If not, you may be surprised to discover the reality as we break down the terms that you have agreed to on various social media platforms.

The terms of service of Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter are all quite clear: they stipulate that all users retain ownership of any and all content posted on the respective platforms.

So far so good, right? Wait, there’s a catch: all users of these social media platforms have, usually unknowingly, granted the respective platform, a non-exclusive, transferable and worldwide licence to use any content on the platform which is owned by the user without any further consent, notice or compensation.

These licences enable the social media platforms to use content owned by individual users to market their business and service.

However, it doesn’t end there. In the words of Twitter, or to “Twitter-phrase”, “this license [sic.] authorises [Twitter] to make your [c]ontent available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same”.

The social media giant may, therefore, sublicense a user’s profile picture or any other content uploaded by said user without that user’s knowledge or further consent.

All LinkedIn and Twitter users have also granted the platforms editing rights, namely, the right to edit, modify, translate and reformat any content posted on the platform.

This has the potential to be highly problematic for users, particularly when their content is translated into other languages. Given the nature of the LinkedIn platform, this could negatively impact recruitment, marketing and networking opportunities.

It is, therefore, essential that users understand that they have granted each platform full editing rights over any content published by them (including re-posts of other user’s content) whether in their professional capacity or otherwise.

Social media is now the norm.  While each platform offers unparalleled connectivity and communication advantages including staying updated with family and friends, receiving breaking global news stories, debate and discourse, exploring employment opportunities, entertainment and digital marketing, it is critical for users to understand the rights that they relinquish and the attendant risks that they attract.

These platforms offer seemingly free online services – however, the cost each user incurs is the use of any content uploaded on to the platform.

We cannot imagine a world – professional or personal – without social media, but perhaps the next time you cheerfully click “accept” on the terms and conditions box for a new account, you should pay closer attention to the fine print.