Copyright, social media and why I don’t use Twitpic.

Can I use your copy socially?

A non-definitive or legally binding post with a Creative Commons Licence….

Copyright is an area of law that affects everyone involved in media, marketing and PR. And don’t think it doesn’t. In recent weeks there have been a flurry of stories about media outlets using bloggers copy and photographs without permission from social media sites.

But in terms of social media, where do copyright laws start and end? It’s a good question and one the legal people are getting their heads around. For example, when you post a tweet on Twitter do you consider that to be YOUR copyright material? Maybe you should read the small print at Twitter:

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). Twitter. Terms of Service.

So basically, you don’t own or have much right over the copy you’re publishing on Twitter. I wouldn’t have thought anything else. And I don’t have an issue with that as I believe using any “open” social media channel means you expect that content to be forwarded and used elsewhere. It’s affectively published under a Creative Commons Licence. The only issue is when that content – albeit in 140 characters – is used by others without reference to you. You see this a lot in retweets that are not referenced from their original source or tweet.

It’s worth pointing out that while Twitter retain the right to use the content in tweets, they also refrain from being held responsible for that content:

All Content, whether publicly posted or privately transmitted, is the sole responsibility of the person who originated such Content. We may not monitor or control the Content posted via the Services and, we cannot take responsibility for such Content. Any use or reliance on any Content or materials posted via the Services or obtained by you through the Services is at your own risk.

So we’re clear on Twitter. What about your blog content? Well this is where you tend to have more control, although it can depend on your blog provider (unless you’re publishing from your own website or platform). WordPress allows you to licence your content as you see fit. It allows you to create a Creative Commons Licence which has a variety of categories and makes it clear to readers about what they can and cannot do with the copy on your blog. WordPress even provides help on what to do if you have not opted for a Creative Commons Licence and someone has “stolen” your content and published it elsewhere, possibly under their brand or name and without reference or authority from you. Read more here.

My personal preference on blogging is that I’m writing on an open platform and I expect my copy to be used or referenced to because it is useful. Yes, I would be unhappy if someone used it for commercial gain without reference to me, but in the main I’m writing here as part of a much wider community of PRs and marketing professionals. However, there are bloggers out there who blog commercially. They need to ensure that it is obvious that there comment is copyrighted. Now that’s where I’m on dodgy ground. To me, engagement through a social media platform – of which I believe a blog is – should be open as it’s about interaction. If, however, the same information was published within a corporate website, then that’s a different matter.

One reason why I don’t use Twitpic and other similar sites is that they have more “control” over your photographs. Twitpic, for example, states that you retain the copyright, but:

Twitpic has a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels. You also hereby grant each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service.

However, I use a photoblog (which I have control of and, if I want, copyright control of) and I publish to Flickr where I can control the Creative Commons Licence. Basically I post photographs to where I’m happy for them to be used. Flickr tends to be more professional or personal photography (if I can call it that) while the photoblog is more like Twitter where I expect the imagery to be shared – within reason.

Yes, this is a very simplistic, non-technical viewpoint. The aim of this post is not to take a side or to provide legal advice. I certainly can’t do that. But there’s a lot of discussion to be had on what should and shouldn’t be covered by copyright laws when it comes to “social” media. And PRs and marketers need to be aware of this.

A useful link on the use of Creative Commons Licences can be found here.

An open Creative Commons explanation of copyright can be found here.

Photograph courtesy of


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