I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my Facebook postings....or is it?

Intellectual Property Solicitor stresses the importance of knowing exactly what you've signed up for before sharing content on social networks.

You may have wondered why your Facebook newsfeed was recently filled with friends making legalistic statements about ownership of copyright. It would appear to have been an attempt to prevent a January sale of their personal details, photos and videos.

It's a misconception that Facebook claims ownership of the copyright to everything posted by its users. Copyright remains with the user. However, there is more to it than that. When you sign up to Facebook, you agree to certain terms of use. These include granting Facebook "a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licence, royalty free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook".

This means Facebook can do almost anything (within the law) that it wishes with your material. If you want to ensure no one else can distribute, share or use your content, then don't put it on Facebook. And because you agreed to the terms and conditions when you registered for the site, you can't declare what Facebook can and can't do. Your option, if you don't like it, is to stop using the site.

It's surprising that people remain so naive about social media. Facebook is, quite openly, a commercial organisation. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is rarely featured in the press without reference being made to his personal wealth.

Actually the Facebook proposition is simple. Users get a free-of-charge service - the homepage states "It's free, and always will be". In return, Facebook collect, analyse and generate revenue from user data and content. Depending on how it is used, this can include names, ages, photos, videos, web pages visited, apps used and geographical information. There has been (sometimes fair) criticism of how clearly this is explained to users, but it's the agreement each user makes by using Facebook.

While many may feel social pressure to use Facebook or other platforms and to "share" as much as possible about themselves, it's important users are aware of the implications of this. It's increasingly easy to get into trouble at work, or with the police, through posting of inappropriate material. Sometimes it might just cause embarrassment or personal inconvenience if private information is shared more extensively or widely than might have been expected.

Facebook has published more guidance on this recently. Privacy Basics was launched on 1 January 2015 and attempts to answer the most frequently asked questions about how users can control their personal data on Facebook. It might not cover everything, but it's definitely a start!

For many people, the free-of-charge benefits offered by Facebook will outweigh any concerns about privacy or re-use of information. And users themselves can decide what should remain private and what can be shared. Hopefully the consequence of this short-lived concern will be greater awareness of how social media works.

Loretta Maxfield is a specialist Intellectual Property, Technology and Media Solicitor. We are always delighted to talk without obligation about whether we might meet your needs. Call Loretta on 01382 229111 or email lmaxfield@thorntons-law.co.uk

Categories: Intellectual Property, Technology & Innovation

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