Who Owns the Content?

Social media is growing at a significant pace with the continued increased use of innovations such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn, to name a few. With millions of people posting different information all over the internet, one of the most prevalent legal questions that arises is, Who owns and controls the content on these social media sites?

From a copyright perspective, an individual posting content generally retains ownership of copyrights with the rights usually being licensed to the site under Terms of Service. Most sites have terms which grant broad licenses to the social media site and give them some rights to “control.” From a trademark perspective, trademarks remain governed by traditional principles. Trademarks and trade dress continue to be owned by their owners and should be controlled by their owners.

How Are Your Trade Secrets, Copyrights, Trademarks and Other IP Possibly at Risk?

Trade secrets and copyrights are potentially at risk on social media sites because employees can easily and sometimes unintentionally release information. There is also the issue of fair use with individuals posting links and quotes.

With trademarks, there is the widespread unauthorized use of trademarks in many social media sites, and the duty to police such sites remains with the trademark owner. It is advisable for companies to create policies informing employees of risks and duties and establish processes to monitor social media sites for IP misuse.

Are Postings Protected under Privacy Laws and Subject to Discovery in Litigation?

There should generally be no expectation of privacy for information publicly available or posted on social media sites. A prime example of this is illustrated below:

A job applicant “tweeted” the following: “Cisco just offered me a new job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”

This “tweet” caught the attention of a channel partner advocate for Cisco who responded: “Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.”