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I posted it. Can't I stop others from using it?

Published On: Aug 30 2013 10:59:11 AM CDT
Updated On: Aug 30 2013 10:59:36 AM CDT
Facebook user with laptop computer

Phil McCarten/Reuters

By attorney Nicole Murrary, Special to THELAW.TV

Each day, hundreds of millions of people post information on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, often without considering the ramifications of such postings.

When posting, what rights are you granting? Can anyone use your tweet as the basis for the next best-selling novel? Can a company use your posted photos to advertise its products? The answer is more complicated than you may think.

On most social media platforms, the owner retains the copyright in the posted content. But, what is a copyright and how long does it last? Under federal law, any original work of authorship, fixed in a "tangible medium," is eligible for copyright protection. Essentially, as soon as you create your post or take that picture, you, the "author," have rights in the work. How long do the rights last? Assuming that you are not creating the work on behalf of a company, then your rights as an author last for your lifetime, plus 70 years after your death. When you die, your copyright rights pass to your heirs, who then control the rights.

So, if you are the author and own the copyright rights, why can social media platforms repost my work? The answer lies in the social media platform's Terms of Use. When you create an account with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, you agree to accept the platform's Terms of Use. A closer look at these terms of use reveals that you are agreeing to grant social media platforms broad rights to use your postings.

For instance, the Twitter Terms of Use states: "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 [Twitter] 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 (now known or later developed)."

Pinterest and Instagram have similar Terms of Use. Facebook's Terms of Use are a bit different. The license to content posted on Facebook is a bit narrower, as long as you don't share your information.

Under the Facebook license: "You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sublicensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it."

Meaning that as long as the content stays solely on your page and is not shared, the license ends when you delete your content or account. However, if the content is posted on a third party's page, then the license continues for as long as the content resides anywhere on Facebook.

So what does this mean? It means that while you are still the owner of the work, by posting you have granted a license to the social media platform and the individuals designated by the social media site. The platforms can use your content, repost your content, and have many of the same rights as an owner. So what's an author to do? In the end, either you opt out of the social network or you don't post information that is sensitive or that you would not want to have reposted or used by others. In this world, opting out of the social network is no longer an option, so you need to be careful in posting material. If the material is sensitive or something that could be a potential commercial project, you should think twice before sharing it with your online circle of friends.

The author, Nicole Murray, is an intellectual property attorney at the firm Quarles & Brady in Chicago, Ill.

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