Disclaimer: The following is legal information, not legal advice. The following legal information is no substitute for sound legal advice from a lawyer or paralegal.
Social media websites are platforms where users can interact and share content such as messages, photos, videos, and audio recordings directly with one another on a large scale. MySpace, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, and Flickr are all examples of social media websites.
The law applies as much online as it does offline. Common legal issues that arise with the use of social media include copyright issues, privacy issues, defamation, and even business finance issues (related to crowdfunding). For more on these issues, see our copyright and crowdfunding bulletins.
1. Does my work become Public Domain if I post it on a social media site?
No. Many people conflate publicly available with public domain. Making your work publicly available does not automatically make it public domain. Work that is publicly available is simply accessible to the public in some way (such as on Facebook), while work that is public domain may be copied, exhibited, and performed for free by anyone. Usually, your work will only become public domain in Canada 50 years after your death. Your work only becomes public domain before your death if you expressly and intentionally abandon your copyright or dedicate your artwork to the public and give the public permission to copy it.1
When posting to a social media site, you will remain the owner of the copyright to the content you post. However, by using the site, you agree to give the site a royalty-free licence to use the work you post. At some sites, that licence is perpetual and irrevocable, while other sites permit you to terminate the licence by deleting the content you posted or by deleting your account entirely.
Typically, the licence includes the right to post the content to other users’ homepages, and the right of other users to repost it as well.
1 John S McKeown, Canadian Intellectual Property Law and Strategy: Trademarks, Copyright, and Industrial Designs (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
2. What do I do if someone else is infringing my copyright using a social media site?
Most sites have copyright complaint mechanisms that permit you request copyrighted content to be removed. Simply browse around for a copyright complaint form, often located in or connected to the site’s copyright policy.
If there is no complaint mechanism, or if there is no response from the site host, you should contact a lawyer for further advice.
3. If I remove my work form a social media site,does the site get to use it?
Most sites make you give them a licence to let them store everything you upload for a “reasonable amount of time.” They do this because they maintain multiple backups of the content on their sites so that they can restore everything if the content got mistakenly wiped out (for example, due to a server melt-down).
However, several major sites permit you to terminate the licence by deleting either the content or your account.
4. If I post my work, do other users get to use it for free?Yes, but only for limited purposes. Most sites require you to permit other users to repost, copy, and modify your content for their personal use or for uses related to the website (such as liking, sharing and pinning).
This limited licence to repost and copy your work does not include the right to sell or use it for commercial purposes.
Due to recent changes to the Canadian Copyright Act, others may now use your work to create new works so long as:
- their use is non-commercial;
- their use doesn’t affect the market or potential market for your work;
- the user has reasonable grounds to believe your work is itself not an infringement of copyright;
- the user cites the source and creator where it is reasonable to do so.
5. Posting material copyrighted by others
Due to recent changes to the Canadian Copyright Act, you are now permitted to use content posted by others to social media sites to create new works, though you don’t have the right to use those new works commercially.
See item number 4 of this FAQ for the conditions of using content uploaded by others.
6. Protecting your copyright
Check if the social media website you are using has privacy controls and use them to limit who can view the content you upload.
You can help protect your pictures and other static images by watermarking them with the copyright symbol, followed by the year the work was produced, followed by your name (e.g © Artist’s Name 2015).
To really drive the point home to users, consider being explicit about what your copyright means by including the following sentence below your watermark or somewhere else near the content: “No part of this art or its image may be copied, reproduced, transmitted, licensed or otherwise used for any purpose without prior permission from the artist.”
For video and audio content, you can be proactive by registering your copyrighted work with YouTube through their Content ID service. This service allows you to upload copyrighted content, which YouTube then compares to every video that users upload. Videos that contain similar video or audio to your copyrighted content will be flagged, and you will be notified. For more information on this service, watch the YouTube video at the end of this FAQ called “YouTube Content ID”.
7. Effective ways of discovering copyright infringements
For static images, you can use Google’s reverse image search to see if others have reposted or even modified your work. The search works by comparing an image you upload to all of the images Google can find. To do a reverse image search, go to Google’s main search page, click ‘images’ at the top, then click the little camera icon located inside the search box.
For video and audio content that you are concerned could get uploaded to YouTube without your permission, you can protect your work by registering it with YouTube through their Content ID service. See item number 6 for details on how this process works.
8. Where to go for help
If you’ve had a privacy issue, you can contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada or access the resources available on its website: www.priv.gc.ca