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There are about 2.34 billion social media users around the world this year. If you are a member of a social networking site, may it be Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, you would have accepted and agreed to an online contract called “Terms of Use” or just Terms.

Most people sign up to social networking platforms accept and agree to terms without reading them and those that do have difficulty understanding the purposefully convoluted legal jargon. Regarding user-generated content, here are some of the things that social media platform users accept and agree to when ticking the box saying, “I agree”. 

You Own Your Content. But You Grant Social Media Platforms a License

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have similar policies about who owns the intellectual property rights on user-generated content. In a nutshell, the creator of the user-generated content remains the owner of the IP. However, the broad license you agree to provide Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with to use your content for any purpose and without payment severely limits your ownership. Also, as a licensee to your intellectual property, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can transfer or sub-license their licensee rights to others at any time for whatever purpose.

You Signed Up to Behave When Using the Social Media Platforms

The social media platforms also have similar policies on how to regulate users’ behaviour. They also have similar policies and processes on how to stop users from behaving contrary to the law such as intellectual property infringement, bullying or misleading and deceptive conduct. In summary, the onus to behave appropriately and to ensure other users do so lies with the users.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all have very liberal positions on users’ behaviour. These consist of provisions in their respective Terms of Service where users supposedly acknowledge and agree that they will behave in a manner that respects other people’s intellectual property, confidential information and the law in general. Community guidelines support this policy which explain to users how to behave and what to do if they feel that their rights are somehow infringed.

It’s Your Responsibility to Enforce Your Rights

In addition to users being responsible for their own conduct, it is also the users’ responsibility to hold other users into account if they do something inappropriate. If somebody infringes their trade mark rights on Facebook, it is their responsibility to report this and prove to Facebook that their rights are being infringed. This can be done through Facebook’s internal dispute resolution process. Twitter and Instagram have similar reporting and dispute resolution processes.

Limitations

There is a slight problem with assuming that when a new user ticks the box to declare that he or she accepts the Terms of Service, the user has read, understood and accepted the Terms. Plus, even if some users have read and understood them, they would not have the opportunity to disagree with provisions that they do not accept unless they decide not to use the social media platform.

While some users are sufficiently aware of their rights and responsibilities based on the standard Terms of Service agreed to when they sign up, they may not be sufficiently aware of the various community guidelines available to them. In fact, they may not be aware of these guidelines until they do further research when experiencing a problem with other users.

As mentioned earlier, if somebody’s rights are infringed in social media through the unauthorised reproduction of content, there are ways for users to enforce their rights under internal dispute resolution procedures. These processes incorporate legal jargon and tests that may be difficult to navigate for regular social media users without a thorough understanding of the laws that govern intellectual property, privacy and bullying. In addition, these processes may be difficult to complete and the threshold for proving that somebody has infringed somebody’s rights may be higher than expected.

Key Takeaways

Connecting and empowering people through the free and unencumbered movement of information through content sharing has not only been a social media mantra, but it is also the key to their popularity and success. Consequently, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram yield significant commercial, political and cultural power. Despite such power, however, these companies have left the onus to regulate conduct on its platforms to individual users.

Questions? Get in touch with our IP lawyers on 1300 544 755. 

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