GUEST BLOG – ‘Social Media Ownership: What’s Yours Is Theirs’

This article is a guest blog post written by Wilbur Hill. Wilbur is a social media strategist and consultant for small businesses.

Anyone who has read the SocialSafe blog before will know that we often discuss the topics of social networking and data ownership, and Wilbur’s piece fits right into that groove. Enjoy…

Social Media Ownership: What’s Yours Is Theirs

by Wilbur Hill

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban decided last year that he is moving his 70-plus companies off Facebook in favor of Twitter, MySpace, Instagram, and other online social platforms. Cuban tweeted a screenshot of Facebook asking him to pay $3,000 so he could post a status update and have it read by one million followers. In other words, Cuban can write whatever he wants on the social network, but Facebook will use it however it pleases.

The fact that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter et al. are free services that people voluntarily utilize is sometimes lost in all the status updates and games. Nothing you post on social media websites is exclusively “yours” per se. MySpace users learned this the hard way this past summer. The company’s $20 million relaunch not only gave the website a much-needed face lift, but deleted years of user content in the process.

The Telegraph in the U.K. reported that several users threatened legal action against MySpace after having their blogs deleted without notice or warning so they could copy and store them elsewhere. Any lawsuit would be immediately dismissed for lack of standing, again, because users technically do not own the information they post. Social media companies tell users this, but few actually read the fine print.

Terms of Use

Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg wrote in February 2009 that users control all their information. This was in response to backlash when the company’s new terms of service were released. Although the verbiage of Facebook’s terms and conditions has since been amended, users still automatically grant the company a worldwide, “royalty-free” license to use all content just by having an account. Facebook admits that even when you “delete” content, photos or videos from your timeline, the company will still retain a backup copy.

Millions of users responded to the new terms by posting a meme-like status update on their timelines late last year. It declared they have exclusive rights to all content they publish, as a result of the Berne Convention. But several social media and law experts quickly squashed the campaign and pointed out that the only way users can unilaterally changed Facebook’s terms and conditions is by leaving the site. This simple legal premise also pertains to Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and any other website that you do not own.

Similarly, TwitPic

Founder of TwitPic Noah Everett responded to “confusion” about TwitPic’s terms of use. He said on his blog that users own all their content and copyrights thereof, sound familiar? But the language used in the terms of service leaves your rights up for debate. TwitPic conveniently includes a one-year statute of limitations for any potential claims against them for violating copyright or privacy policies. And although the company says you own your content, it has the right to use anything you post in any way it desires. There is also no such thing as “deleting” content from TwitPic. The company specifically states that it can access any material ever posted and reproduce it for law enforcement when requested.

The only way you truly own anything you post online is if you own the domain in which it is published. Likewise, if someone posts a photo or comment on your website, you control that material however you choose. Your domain is like your home on the Web, complete with protection services that give you legal remedies if someone “burglarizes” your property.

The best way to combat social media companies from usurping your rights is to simply post a link to your own website, in lieu of the actual photos or videos you wish to share. That way people must enter your property to view it, and you do not hand a third party any rights to reproduce or sell it in any way.