How Copyright Works with Social Media

Fair Use and Licensing

Copyright sign
••• JLGutierrez / Getty Images

The copyright process has become fairly simple with traditional works like books, plays, movies, and theater. But copyright is a little more difficult with the advent of the internet. 

For example, bloggers must be aware of what they write, to avoid copyright, trademark, and libel issues. And before you use an image from the internet you need to be sure to get a license or find public domain images. This article looks specifically at various social media sites and their copyright policies. 

What is a Copyright?

A copyright protects the owner of one kind of intellectual property (creations of the mind). Copyrights protect "original works of authorship." Only certain kinds of works that fall within the requirements of copyright law can be copyrighted.

Types of digital content that can be copyrighted are blogs, screen displays, social media posts, short online articles, and websites.

One vast area of copyright protection is digital transmission, including website content. You can't register a website itself, but you can register individual work on a website, including blog posts, musical or photographic work. You'll need a separate application for each component.

You don't have to register your copyrights to protect them, but you must register your copyright if you want to take a copyright violation lawsuit to court. Registering a copyright shows the court that you are serious about protecting your digital content.

Social Media and Copyright

Social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, allow online posting of material that may be copyrighted. The social media site does not own the work that has been posted on their site; the copyright is still retained by the owner. But by agreeing to post works on the site, you sign an agreement that gives the site a license to use the work for a variety of purposes, like displaying it, adapting it, or reproducing it. In these cases, the license is given without payment.

Twitter and Copyright

The Twitter Terms of Service (as of July 8, 2020) state, "Content is the sole responsibility of the person who originated the Content," but they reserve the right to remove Content that violates the User Agreement. Twitter says that if you believe your Content has been copied in a way that "constitutes copyright infringement" you can file a report at https://help.twitter.com/forms/dmca.

Facebook and Copyright

The Facebook Terms of Service state that you (the Facebook user) own the intellectual property rights (including copyright or trademark) to content you create and share on Facebook and other Facebook products. You can share your content with anyone else, any time you want. In return, Facebook says, you must agree to give them a license to use the content. Specifically,

...you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create deriviate works of your content.

When you leave Facebook, all content is deleted (they use the analogy of a recycle bin).

Pinterest and Copyright

Pinterest is a social media site that allows members to post photos from their websites and other places. Pinterest's terms of service gives users a "limited non-exclusive, non-transferable, and revocable license" to use its services.

Pinterest's says you retain "retain all rights in, and are solely responsible for" the content you post. But, by signing up for Pinterest and agreeing to their terms of service, you have agreed to give Pinterest "a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license" to use your content. They also reserve the right to "remove or modify" your content or "change the way it's used in Pinterest, for any reason."

In other words, Pinterest can use your content on its site because you have agreed to give them a license to use it as described in this agreement, without payment. The​ ​Pinterest copyright statement includes a link where you can file a complaint against someone you feel has violated your copyright.

Protecting Your Own Content on Social Media

The best way to protect your intellectual property from being appropriated on social media is to not put it up there in the first place. Although you own the content you place on one of these social media sites, you have granted a license to the media site to use the content and for others to view it.

To protect content, include a copyright statement on the file for photos. And be aware that your property might get appropriated by someone (not associated with the social media site). You must be vigilant to keep track of possible violations and be quick to file complaints. If you are not vigilant, you may not be able to support your claims in a lawsuit.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Copyright Office. "U.S. Copyright Office Definitions: Copyright." Accessed July 8, 2020.

  2. U.S. Copyright Office. "Other Digital Content." Accessed July 8, 2020.

  3. U.S. Copyright Office. "Copyright Registration of Websites and Website Content." Page 2. Accessed July 8, 2020.

  4. U.S. Copyright Office. "Circular 1 Copyright Basics." Page 4. Accessed July 8, 2020.

  5. The University of New South Wales – Sydney. "Who Owns the Content on Social Media?" Accessed July 8, 2020.