Thanks to issues as varied as Article 13 from the new EU Copyright Directive and character dance animations on the world’s most popular online game, Fortnite, intellectual property is generating a lot of public attention at the moment.
But how does this affect you? Whether you’re creating content yourself or sharing memes and videos on Twitter, there are some issues to be aware of to protect your rights and make sure you’re not infringing the rights of others. To help ensure you know how to do both of these, Akber Ahmed, a Trade Mark Assistant with IP firm UDL, has put together a short guide to the basics…
What is copyright?
You automatically get copyright protection as soon as you create original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography, as well as original non-literary written work such as software code. Unlike a patent or trade mark, you don’t need to register your work to be protected.
The law of copyright has a wide application, whether you’re a modern day Shakespeare or credited with starting an internet craze like ‘flossing’.
The law of copyright protects your work and gives you legal recourse to prevent people from copying it and/or distributing copies of it without your permission. It can also be used to prevent others from performing, showing or playing your work in public, making an adaptation of your work or putting it on the internet.
When you sign up to social media, you give away a licence
As soon as you create an account on a social media platform like Instagram or Twitter, you’re prompted to accept their terms and conditions. Of course, 99% of users blindly accept these without actually reading them. By accepting, you’re usually granting a transferable, royalty-free, worldwide licence to the platform to use any content that you share. By creating an account on the site, you’re agreeing to give the social media platform a licence to use your content.
If you’re a content creator, it’s especially important to be aware of this fact and ensure that you fully understand the terms and conditions that you’ve signed up to, in order to understand your IP rights.
Top tips to protect your creations
If you do post videos or images on social media, here are some tips to help you protect and track your work:
- Inform people that you’re the creator of the work and that you hold the copyright for it, by using the copyright symbol © with your name and possibly the year of creation, next to your work. This encourages people to seek permission if they wish to reproduce it.
- You may want to consider adding digital watermarks to your images or videos — many editing programmes can help you do this.
- Only share low-resolution images. This can limit the range of infringements that occur and means people will have to seek you out in order to access a higher quality image.
- Link your images and videos back to your website, where you have control of your terms and conditions. On other sites like social media platforms, you’re operating under their terms and conditions.
- Keep track of the images you publish and which social media platforms you’ve published them on. This may help you in the event of an infringement.
You’ve likely heard of ‘Article 13’ from the EU’s controversial Copyright Directive. The ins and outs of this are still being debated, with discussions now set to continue well into 2019. However, in theory Article 13 will place greater responsibility on social media platforms to take proactive steps to both remove and prevent from being posted any potentially infringing content. This is designed to help protect content creators and put less responsibility on them to track their creations. At present, social media platforms operate services to investigate and take down infringing content if they are notified of the infringement.
The Directive has been heralded by some as meaning the end for memes, but we’ll just have to wait and see how this works in practice.
A case in point
Today, with the power and pervasiveness of social media, brands can become huge overnight.
A t-shirt featuring black lettering that read “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” went viral in 2017, after the singer Frank Ocean wore it at New York’s Panorama Festival. The shirt was traced to the online merchant Green Box Shop, which was soon swamped with 5,500 orders for the shirt. However, it was discovered that this quote was taken from a tweet without the permission of its creator.
This highlights the importance of seeking IP advice before you enter into a business venture. It could save you a lot of trouble and, in certain cases, money.
Risks for the average social media user
The risks of sharing on social media aren’t just limited to content creators.
If you post a video or image online without the permission of the creator, you could be infringing their IP rights. The law of copyright is designed so that, if someone has created something, they get to decide who accesses it.
One Twitter user thought it would be a brilliant idea to post the eagerly-anticipated music video for Kanye West’s song ‘Fade’ before it was generally released. If you were a member of the music streaming service TIDAL, you could enjoy the video early. The accused user took the video from TIDAL and uploaded it to Twitter, invoking the wrath of angry lawyers who threatened to sue him for US$20m. Unsurprisingly, the video was hurriedly taken down.
Not all sharing will get you into trouble
Despite scare stories like this, not everything that you share has the potential to get you into trouble.
The Court of Justice of the European Union decided that posting a hyperlink to another, freely accessible website which contains copyright-protected content does not constitute copyright infringement on your part.
Additionally, materials which explicitly state they’re in the public domain and available for use can be freely used — for instance, stock photos from free photo libraries and some content licensed under Creative Commons licences. However, these do contain some restrictions for commercial use, so again, make sure you read the small print.
The law also provides for a limited number of exceptions to copyright infringement. This includes works used for non-commercial research or private study, as well as the criticism, review or reporting of current events. However, the exceptions are limited and need to be considered with care before reliance is placed on them.
Don’t be misled — most content isn’t ‘copyright free’
The key message to take away is not to believe that online use of a created work is ‘copyright free’ — make sure you know if you need a licence and, if you do, take steps to contact the copyright holder before you share material. If you’re a creator of content and you do discover that your content is being shared without your permission, social media platforms do have online tools which allow you to have the material removed.
An image or video should only be shared or used online in one of the three following scenarios, where:
- copyright is owned because you created the content yourself
- a licence has been granted or you’ve bought the copyright
- the use of the photo or video is considered ‘fair dealing’