Who Owns Your Content?

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When it comes to social media, the meaning of ownership has become perverse. Less rights and more responsibilities. Hardly fair?

Over the past year we’ve seen awareness of content ownership, rights and responsibilities hit the mainstream. In December 2012, newly Facebook-ed Instagram updated its terms of service to fall more in line with its new owner. They updated their Terms and Conditions (T&C’s) to include the provision of:

“a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service.”

As licenses go this is pretty wide! It could be summarised as “a right to do anything,” and it flew in the face of what Instagram stood for in its pre-Facebook days. Users were outraged, with a tremendous number vocalising their disappointment online while threatening to quit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr — the T&C’s of each service are central to each site’s DNA, who gets to see what content, and what they get to do with it. Privacy settings, Application Programming Interface (API) documentation, and those T&C’s people never read when they sign up — each contain a tremendous amount of vital information for a user, masked in a tremendous amount of legalese. These words may be boring, but the fine print matters.

For brands, taking a holistic approach to social media campaigns from the start pays dividends. In these heady days of blue sky thinking, creatives need to know what a social network’s API terms actually make possible. While there are fantastical things Facebook can do with all the content they have “a right to do anything with”, the Facebook API only shares the love so far, and designers and developers need to be aware of these limitations.

The license to content is Facebook’s (or Twitter’s or Instagram’s) to transfer and they tend to save that for loosely associated third parties they have a financial stake in. Brands need to understand that access via the API is on the social network’s terms and may change at any time, not necessarily for the good of brands or the community. Additionally, social networks are in a state of constant flux, with new features rolling out and old approaches retiring. 

This means that a campaign developed today can be rendered obsolete tomorrow if the network changes the way they do things at the product level, often without forewarning. Brands need to be prepared to adapt and change their campaigns and content quickly in the event of a major product update. This can obviously have major implications on budgets and resources.

But that doesn’t mean that brands should shirk away from embracing all of the amazing opportunities these platforms offer for branded content. Rather, it is essential that brands, designers, and developers educate themselves on who owns what and what the T&C’s of each allow for. Doing so from the start will pay off immensely.

You should know: 

  • Competitions and endorsement regulations apply; prizes over a certain value require permits and endorsing tweets should be identifiable. 
  • In 2012 the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau held that Diageo and Victoria Bitter were responsible for user generated content. 
  • This content is an advertising channel like any other. The AANA recommends regular monitoring for 2 hours after each post and moderation at least once every business day thereafter. 
  • Some copywriters charge more for content to be placed on social media. It's not just the client they are giving rights to — it is the social network too.

This article first appeared in Perspectives 2013. Download the full PDF version or read it on Slideshare.

David Jones, Strategist / Analyst


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