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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Social Media & ­­­­­Copyright

Navigating the potential pitfalls of having your work circulating in social media

As detailed in my blog post "How I Evaluate Terms of Service for Social Media Web Sites" (www.jmg-galleries.terms-of-service-for-social-media-web-sites-google/), there are four factors I evaluate in ToS documents before participating in a social-media website.

1. Is a claim made that the copyright of my work is transferred to "company X" upon posting or submission?

2. Is a claim made that my copyrighted work will be distributed to sites under a set umbrella of sites and services (for example, Google: Google+, Google Search, Google Image Search, Google Maps, Google Places, etc.), or far beyond, such as a blanket claim to sublicense my shared work to known and unknown
companies/services (for example, third-party advertisers or image licensing services)?

3. Do terms used in relation to any claimed license include "irrevocable", "perpetual license", "fully paid", "royalty-free" or the classic phrase "by all means and in any media now known or hereafter developed"?

4. Can the Terms of Service be terminated by myself and not just by "company X"?

Sites & Their Terms Of Service

Social-media/microblogging website that allows users to share 140-character text updates and images. twitter.com/tos

Social-media website that allows users to share text, images and video. www.facebook.com/legal/terms

Social-media website that allows users to share text, images and video. www.google.com/intl/en/help/terms_maps.html & www.google.com/intl/en/policies/terms/

Social-media website aimed at professional networking that allows members to list a professional résumé and relay text status updates.

Social-media/microblogging site that allows users to make shortform updates with text, images and video. www.tumblr.com/policy/en/terms_of_service

A social bookmarking site that provides a visual interface to bookmarks via photos and videos. pinterest.com/about/terms/
Links to the ToS for some of the most popular social-media websites are below. When reviewing these ToS documents, note that they address the rights needed of the host company to provide their services and the rights/responsibilities of content owners/copyright holders, site users who distribute content through their service and developers building tools to share content within their service/website. Each ToS also contains a Disclaimer or Disputes section, placing responsibility of content use on the individual user versus the company (i.e., site users are the liable party for copyright infringement). Once you've read these ToS documents, it's a good practice to check in on changes that are regularly made to them via the "TOSBack Terms-of-Use Tracker" (www.tosback.org/timeline.php) created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org/).

When evaluating an existing or new social-media site in relation to copyright concerns, make every effort to look beyond the hype. Educating yourself to the purpose and limits of a site's ToS is incredibly important. A healthy dose of skepticism is good, but don't lose sight of reality.

What's the business model of the site you're evaluating? Do they have a track record of exploiting or reselling/relicensing copyrighted material? How can you maximize the opportunity before you with the website you're evaluating? What can you do to safeguard your copyrighted material while still making use of the site? These are but a few questions that should help you make a reasonable assessment of risks and set a course to make use of social media in a wise fashion.

Even for sites that have had the poorest of ToS, no major social-media site to date has made it their business to officially sell or relicense copyrighted material as one may see with a stock agency. Social media, while powered by the content of others, has always been about the collection of user data (demographics, interests, purchases, web-viewing trends, etc.) for the sake of targeted advertising. Things always can change, but precedent has shown social-media companies have skirted the hot-button topic of copyright infringement while savvy photographers have been creatively using social media, balancing risk and reward to enhance their businesses.

Jim Goldstein is a professional outdoor and travel photographer, as well as the VP of Marketing at BorrowLenses.com. You can follow him on his blog at www.jmg-galleries.com/blog, Twitter (@jimgoldstein), Facebook (www.facebook.com/jmggalleries) and Google+ (www.gplus.to/jimgoldstein).


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