Giving away your rights: Social media guidelines part III

Thursday 24th October 2013
Article written by: Thomas Huthwaite

Many social media users will be aware of the controversy caused by Instagram’s proposed changes to its terms of service in late 2012.  Resulting in public backlash, the company amended its terms to state that it could “sell user photo[graphs] to advertisers without paying them compensation”.  However, how many users went on to consider what terms and conditions other social media websites impose?

Most social media websites specify that users retain copyright ownership in the content they post on the website; however, users typically grant the website a license to use and publish the content.  This license can take a variety of forms.


With terms and policies that span over 14,000 words, it would be interesting to know how many of the 1.15 billion users have waded through Facebook’s paperwork.  The Statement of Rights and Responsibilities in particular grants Facebook a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license” to use any intellectual property (IP) that users “post on or in connection with Facebook”.  In addition, a subsection explains how and when users’ IP (including profile pictures and other information) may be used in advertising.
In other words, Facebook can use its users’ IP in a range of ways, including being able to transfer or sub-license the IP to someone else.  There also appears to be no limitation on the commercialisation of the IP, but the owner will not receive any royalties.
Furthermore, the license only ends when all IP is deleted – not only from the user’s own account, but also from the account of every other user with whom the IP has been shared.  Anyone who has attempted to delete their Facebook account will know how difficult that process can be.


Like Facebook, Twitter’s terms give the company a broad scope to use and modify any IP posted through its service, and to distribute that IP to any other forms of media, or sub-license it to someone else.  The specific terms read: “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense)”.


Google’s terms are relatively modest, granting the company the use of IP only for “the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones”.  This may come as a surprise, given that Google’s privacy policies have been criticised in the media.


Also surprisingly, professional network LinkedIn makes very broad claims to its users’ IP, giving it the right to “copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialise, in any way now known or in the future discovered”.  The range of works covered by these terms includes not only pictures and literary works, but also all data, concepts or ideas expressed through LinkedIn.

It seems that users only take heed of terms and conditions when sweeping changes are made (as in the Instagram example above).  However, users on a daily basis relinquish a host of rights without complaint – and perhaps more disturbingly, often without realising.

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