Copyright in Social Networking Sites

Photo: www.insticc.org
Photo: www.insticc.org

The Internet becomes more and more available all over the world on a day to day basis. In parallel to it, the number of users increases, who share a huge amount of content in their virtual platforms.  These contents are protected by copyright lawsi, but there are many cases of debates on who the author is, whom it belongs to.

How is it possible to evade the problems connected with copyright and how to improve this sphere?

The concept of ‘copyright’

Copyright is the author’s exclusive personal non-property and exclusive property rights over his/her works. Authors are entitled to ban or allow other people to use their intellectual property, but the right to fair use is also allowed. In case of fair use the permission of the author is not necessary, but it is obligatory to mention his/her name. Under the fair use it is allowed to cite the extract of legally published works on scientific, research, debate, critical and informational purposes, to use the literal and art works and their extracts on covering purposes, to perform publicly legally published songs and so onii. The law defines also the reproduction of work on personal, non-trade purposes, if it does not violate the legal interests of the author. The article on the freedom of panorama is also interesting, according to which it is allowed to reproduce or broadcast the artworks (in any carrier) permanently situated in streets, parks and other public spaces without the permission of the author or payment. Copyrights have expiry date, and also can be inherited. The differences on copyright refer to the branch of civil right, and there are different penalties in case of breaches in different countries, including criminal proceedings in unique casesiii.

Copyright in social media

According to the latest researchesiv, 2.34 billion people, in other words 31% of the world’s population is a user of any social media․ The social networking website having the most users is Facebook (1.59 billion), YouTube is the most widespread platform of videos (1.3 billion), Twitter is the most appropriate social net in terms of expressing sharp and to the point thoughts (320 million), and Pinterest is famous in terms of sharing photos (100 million)v. There were many precedents in these multi-people platforms when users voice about violating their rights. In order to understand how it is possible to avoid such situations, it is necessary to reveal why such debates arise.

The Internet rapidly penetrated our routine life bringing new terms, virtual platforms and accordingly new relations and opportunities, but these relations, rights and responsibilities were not fully subject to legislative regulation. In case of classic copyright the datesvi, as well as the relations between the author and the first seller (for example, publishing houses and recording studios) are regulated, but it is comparatively difficult to control this process in social networking websites. Simultaneously the financial resources spent on the formation of virtual content are minimalized, in other words, there is no money allocated to conveying the information to the editor and making physical carriers. Initially the mentioned changes did not influence film industry, music industry and Internet libraries, but currently the conditions for the users of social media (especially YouTube users) are eased. Together with these positive features the theft of the content has also been eased. It is not difficult to duplicate the content and share it in other social networking websites on their behalf. Sometimes the main reason for the confrontations between the users is the fact that it is difficult to prove whom the content belongs to. In these cases it is not sufficient to check the publication date, since technical problems (for example, delete accidentally) can arise and the file could be deleted from the real primary source or the author’s page. Generally speaking, the actuality of copyright on the Internet is the following: incredible amount of contents are available for free or for some money, but the person providing the content has no relation with the author, and the latter does not benefit from the money. According to the author, the judicial thought referring to the issues of the Internet is in the initial phase of development. Accordingly, the weak protection of the Internet and social networking content is one of the reasons for controversies.

Nowadays the workers of social nets pay more and more attention to the issues of copyright and tend to provide maximum protection for their users. The main principles of different networking websites do not varyvii, and the existing differences are conditioned by the type of the content which is met most in the given net (tweets, videos, songs, photos and so on).

Facebook

As we have already mentioned, Facebook has the most users sharing their photos, videos, and stating their thoughts in the form of statuses. Facebook gives you an opportunity to decide who can see your contents. As shown by practice, Facebook tends to care about all of its users regardless of the number of their friends or followers. In other words, if you have noticed a violation of your rights, it is sufficient to refer to the Facebook staff and the attachment of grounding letter is preferable. Even in this case there is a clause, from which those who owned the content illegally benefit. In order to protect your photos, thoughts maximally, you can publish the content not for the public, but only for friends. What is the difference? In the first case those who have owned the content have official grounds to argue that the author has allowed the third people, among them those who are not registered on Facebook, to use the information and made it available for others. They argue also that the author has allowed to link the information to their name.  Facebook periodically warns it users to add in the list of their friends only those whom they know personally, and even in this case the user can make his-her content invisible for a group of friends, accordingly it is supposed that the danger is minimalized.

Twitter

The main peculiarity of Twitter is the fact that the thoughts should be written briefly. Hashtags are also one of the calling cards of the given platform.  The main issues of copyright in Twitter refer to photos and those tweets containing texts. As in Facebook, photos can be public, and in this case the third parties are entitled to use them. As a result, the photos taken while being in important events are freely used by media. According to the decision of the court made in 2013viii, publishing-houses are not allowed to use the photos of the users for commercial purposes. It can be concluded, that nowadays other users can use your contents via retweeting. Accordingly, your name will be mentioned. For commercial purposes your consent is mandatory. In conclusion, the photographer in Twitter has copyrights which are spread to their work.

In case of tweets containing text the problem is different. In case of photos there is a relation between photo and the author, but there is straight approach in case of texts. For example, A and B users think that Da Vinci is a good painter and write in their micro-blog. “Leonardo da Vinci is a great artist”. The principle of retweeting does not exist here, and it would be wrong to be guided by the principle of time. Attributing da Vinci as a good artist cannot be considered an exclusive non-property right. Simultaneously the user

A can write in his micro-blog something new and interesting which the user B would insert in his blog without mentioning the original source. To the author’s way of thinking, the most appropriate option of avoiding confrontations would be the processing of filters, which could differentiate the tweets referring to the weather from the others containing news. That is, in order to minimalize the problems in case of text tweets, a more complex system is needed, which would not block users senselessly and simultaneously protect those tweets which contain news.

YouTube

The differences of YouTube regulations are conditioned by the fact that not statuses or photos, but videos are inserted here. The creation of copyright regulations for videos is more complicated. On this occasion it is necessary to draw attention not only to the video itself, but also the accompanying elements, such as music and images being used. Even if you have recorded the video yourself, but have used a music work of any author, your video could be blocked upon request of the author. It can seem that the problems would be tackled by agreeing with the author, but practically huge studios do not cooperate with beginners and sometimes users cannot contact with them. Even if they manage to do this studio requires big amount of money which they are not able to pay. In order to avoid such situations it is preferable to answer the letters of people having copyright that you have conscientiously used their content[ix], but the author can refuse. When owning other’s content it is not secure to buy from Itunes, take CD, DVD recordings. At least it is preferable to mention the source of the content if it does not belong to you. YouTube has a list of free melodies, where users can choose the best option for them. For maintaining the originality and conveying interesting features, as well as avoiding the problems of copyright the best option is to attach your personal music to your video. Besides the author of the music, other people, whose photos you have used in your video, can complain. YouTube is also interesting because it has a section of Content ID, where the complaints against the videos are seen. To what extents are these complaints serious? Sometimes the video is not even blocked, but the peculiarity of YouTube is the fact that copyright owners can not only block the video, but also ban to spread it in other portals. Accordingly, removing the video to Facebook would not solve the problem. Another interesting and less famous fact is that the user can propose the copyright owner to share the incomes.

Pinterest

Most people have boards, walls in their studies, houses and elsewhere, where they hang pictures and notifications. Pinterest resembles those boards. Here the users search and find images and GIFs interesting them, as well as follow other Pins which they are interested in. The workers of Pinterest do not take photos from other sources, accordingly they do not have any relation with copyright infringements, the heads of the website do not undermine to the main resource. The complaints are directed at not the staff, but the user. Users often find other’s photos in other sites, insert them in their page and do not mention the author. In this case the staff of the website warns the user upon the request of the author. Sometimes the users can be blocked. It becomes difficult to find the author of the photo because of the number of photos in Pinterest, that is way the copyright infringers remain unpunished. The beginners are more likely to suffer from Pinterest violation, because people are not familiar with their works. It is very difficult to work out a united system while working with such amount of information. It is possible to connect the responsible people of the website also in the case when, for example, A user notices his animation hero in other’s page, but the main picture is not copied fully: the hero is depicted in another environment.  It is preferable to write the letter in an official style, substantiate it and give references. It is satisfactory not to delete the name of the author in order to protect your page from contingencies, but if you are going to implement professional activity, insert only your works.

Summing up the above mentioned examples, as well as the problems arising in many social nets and their solutions, it is possible to state that some part of the copyright problems arises because the users do not read the part of website’s policy for some reasons, and then pay little importance to mentioning the author. Currently it is not realistic to propose a unequivocal solution to the given problem. The process of working out filters is connected with huge expenses which contradict the business-plans of websites. The latter ones do not show interest in such expenses. When the judicial agreement is absent, social nets do not carry responsibility. Users living in different corners of the globe are subject to diverse legislative regulations. Another solution would be a document proposed by any authoritative organization, such as the UN. Even in this case several states can simply refuse to accept that clauses. As yet the financial interest is not dominant in social media-user relations, it is not advantageous for the social networking websites to give the problem an effective, but expensive solution.


  1. ՀՀ Քաղաքացիական օրենսգիրք
  2. Digital Millennium Copyright Act
  3. Гущин А.А. – Авторское право в интернете
  4. И. Апарышев – Авторское право в интернете
  5. Facebook – Terms and Policies
  6. Pinterest – Terms and Policies
  7. Twitter – Terms and Policies
  8. Youtube – Tems and Policies


i The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the European Union Copyright Directive are the USA’s and Europe’s copyright laws respectively

ii The law of RA on copyright and adjacent rights

iii The offenders are subject to administrative responsibility

iv Data from statista.com

v Data from adweek.com, December 15th. YouTube date from statista.com

vi As a rule, 70 years after the author’s death

vii For example, to mention the name of the author when using the content of other users, not to use other’s content for commercial purposes.

viii Daniel Morel prosecuted a group of media which used the photographs he took of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The court decided that the photographs cannot be used for commercial purposes without the consent of the author.

ix Scientific, debating, critical and other cases


Author: Lusine Hovhannisyan: © All rights are reserved.
Translator: Khachik Makyan.


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