If you're on Facebook‚ Instagram or Twitter‚ read the Ts and Cs

07 September 2017 - 14:06 By Suthentira Govender
Image: Dado Ruvic

If you chose to skip the terms and conditions before joining social media networks‚ you do so at your own peril.

In most‚ if not all‚ cases you will be granting platforms like Facebook‚ Twitter and Instagram licence to use your content in some way. That’s the warning from intellectual property law experts Spoor & Fisher‚ who turned the spotlight on social media copyright infringement after US photographer David Slater - whose camera was famously hijacked by a monkey and used for a series of selfies that went viral - recently declared he was broke from fighting a protracted legal battle over who actually owned the pictures.

Wikipedia took a stand for the monkey‚ arguing that the photograph is in the public domain since it was shot by the monkey and not Slater.

While this is a more extreme case‚ it is a very real situation that many South Africans could face given how social networking has become a daily ritual for scores of South Africans. According to World Wide Worx’s SA Social Media Landscape 2017‚ Facebook is used by over 25% of South Africans and Instagram‚ with its 3.5-million users in SA‚ is growing the fastest.

Hugh Melamdowitz‚ a partner at Spoor & Fisher‚ warned that during sign up “there is the probability that as a member of Facebook‚ Twitter or Instagram‚ you would have glided over the page and clicked 'I Agree'‚ that innocuous looking prompt at the bottom of the screen‚ without reading the licence agreements‚ terms of service or privacy policies".

“You may be shocked to know that by clicking on 'I Agree'‚ you have granted the site a licence to use your creative work‚ photographs‚ written material‚ videos and also grant them the right to sub licence the use to other members‚” said Melamdowitz.

He said under Facebook’s current terms‚ by posting pictures and videos "you grant Facebook a non-exclusive‚ transferable‚ royalty-free‚ worldwide licence to use any [IP] content that you post on or in connection with Facebook".

But Melamdowitz said the fact that a photograph had been published online‚ did not mean that anyone could use the work as it was in the public domain‚ “just as one cannot photocopy a book or extract images from it just because it is available publicly".

“Save for situations where a licence has been granted by the copyright owner pursuant to the terms of use of that particular site‚ one cannot assume that one is entitled to use the photograph because it is the public domain‚” he said.

According to Melamdowitz‚ copyright laws protect original works including photographs‚ videos and written work on social media sites.

But Facebook is not the only culprit. From October 2‚ Twitter's updated user agreement will come into effect.

Twitter has specified to its users that in terms of content‚ "by submitting‚ posting or displaying content on or through the services‚ you grant us a worldwide‚ non-exclusive‚ royalty-free license (with right to sublicense) to use‚ copy‚ reproduce‚ process‚ adapt‚ modify‚ publish‚ transmit‚ display‚ distribute such content in any and all media or distribution methods".

Twitter said that by users agreeing to the new agreement "this licence authorises us to make your content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same."

According to Twitter‚ users will not be compensated for use of their content.