Internet is an enormous provider of content and services as well as a great bridge connecting users so they may have access to and exchange data. Although messaging and electronic mail systems have their quota of importance the contribution of social networking services as catalysts of new ways to communicate, produce, exchange and share content is undeniable.

Many entrepreneurs use social networking as a means to spread and market their products. This fact makes it vitally important to know the source of whatever content we publish – texts, photos, audio, video, etc. - because in case they are not of our own authorship we might be infringing somebody’s copyright. Yes, this is where we run into a wall because:

The fact that a certain content is in the Internet does not mean that we may use it at our discretion as if it were our property.

At this point is where we tend to reason “if it’s in the Internet it should be free to use”. The truth is that this is not necessarily so since all products of creativity may and should be protected under Intellectual Property so that nobody can take unauthorized advantage of them; web-resident content has its creators with their corresponding rights. Many authors have written, and quite a lot, on this subject.

The first things to be considered are the conditions of use established by each social network. Such conditions can be found in that infinitely long text that we usually skip reading and proceed directly to pressing the “I accept” button. That text includes the definitions of terms of use and responsibilities for users concerning content that they publish as well as terms of use of such content by the network.

Facebook, for instance, covenants the following in its Declaration of Principles and Responsibilities:

“You are the owner of all content and information that you publish in Facebook and you can control how it is shared by configuring your conditions concerning privacy and applications”.

When a user uploads content to a social network such content automatically becomes subject to the terms and conditions of said network. This is why the agreement should be read before pressing the “I accept” button. Nevertheless, authorship of the work remains unchanged, as professor José Rafael Fariñas, an expert lawyer in Intellectual Property and Director of the Venezuelan Association of Authors and Composers (SACVEN, acronym in Spanish) clearly states: “When you upload material to the web you are not stating that it can be used indiscriminately, you are only placing it at the disposal of those interested.  But if it is used in a way contrary to the original intent of the owner care must be taken with the intellectual capital and rights or the authorship of the work”.

In other words, if a third person shares your content he should respect attribution or authorship, but if he intends to make use of it he must first request your authorization. This does not always apply if the potential user is the social network itself because most of the conditions for use clearly state that content uploaded to a platform may be used by the social network. Facebook does so in its Declaration of Principles and Responsibilities:

“In case of intellectual property law protected content, such as photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically grant us the following authorization as per your configuration of privacy and applications: you grant us a non-exclusive transferable license, with rights to sublicense, free of royalties and applicable worldwide, to use any IP content that you publish in Facebook or in connection with Facebook (“IP license”). This IP license will terminate when you delete your IP content or your account, except if the content was shared with third parties and such parties did not delete them”.

In summary, original works in online platforms must be respected in the same way they should be respected in World 1.0. On the other hand, as entrepreneurs we must find the way to secure proprietary rights on our original digital content. To that effect there are options that range from experts in World 1.0 to Creative Commons licenses as well as other alternatives.

Should you at any time have doubts about your Intellectual Property rights within the social networks and/or similar environments, please be reminded that at Clarke, Modet & Co. we can advise you on ways to adequately take full advantage of the content you generate or find in the Internet.

Finally, before using a content remember to carefully look into the reserved rights involved and make sure that your work online is duly protected.