The Fine Print Can Kill You

Yesterday I talked about the misconception that some have that anything goes in their social media postings.  Today, let’s talk about what governs your interactions with the various social platforms that you use.  Every now and then a change is so ground breaking that the every day user stands up and takes notice.  Remember Instagram’s change to allow greater use of your photos?  User’s took up pitchforks and they retracted.  What about all the other terms on the other networks that govern your use and reuse of content.

Ryan Garcia, on his SoMeLaw blog, pointed out the problems with Terms of Service/Use (TOS) and why they are hard to understand.  Leaving aside the question of whether lawyers should write them in more plain language, let’s just accept the fact that they are hard to understand, that lawyers get paid a fair amount of money for drafting them, and that you never read them.  So, what are you agreeing to?  Let’s look at some interesting sections.

Multiple Accounts on Facebook?

Section 4.2 of Facebook’s TOS specifically call out that “you will not create more than one personal account,” and that you will not “provide any false information.”  So if you have ever created a quick “just-for-lolz” account on Facebook then you are in violation.  That is a favorite of mine, because I have heard of companies sharing around a single account to do business related investigations on Facebook.  Absent some other agreement with Facebook you risk having that account shut down.

Your Stuff, Their Use

The biggest thing that gets the most play is what licenses you give to the platform for the use of the content you create.  Let’s say you write the next “The Road Not Taken,” and post it to Facebook (I am picking on Facebook for the moment, but I will get to the other platforms in a moment).  While you retain the copyright on that poem, and the vast majority of platforms leave the overall ownership in the poster, you are giving Facebook the right, subject to your “privacy and application settings,” to take that content and redistribute that content.  This is pretty standard as they need that right to be able to send your poem all over the world.  However, that right is transferable, so they can give it to an advertiser.  The right only ends when you delete your poem or your account.  Wait, if someone shared that poem, because it was so great, the license continues.

Whither Twitter?  Twitter’s TOS actually do a good job calling out in plain language what you are agreeing to.  In Section 5, “This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.”  While you retain the ownership of the great 140 character poem, you are giving a fairly expansive license to Twitter and it’s other users.  So, subject to other laws (such as publicity) any other user can take that content and re-tweet it.  What you can’t do is take it out of the service and use it in something else.  As for brands re-tweeting your stuff, a good argument has been made that if you are talking about them you implicitly are giving them a license to re-tweet it.  This is not quite settled and will usually generate an interesting debate amongst lawyers.  The bottom line is that if a user is saying something great about you, they are probably ok with you re-tweeting it.  Take that tweet out of the service and put it in an ad displayed in Times Square and you have huge problems.  You need to secure directly from the user all the rights and interest in their copyrighted content because they retain it.

Tumblr’s TOS are a bit more explicit with what brands can do with your content, and quite frankly is the best read out there when it comes to these documents. Out of all the networks out there Tumblr has done a very good job of striking a good balance between it’s users and brands.

Should You Really Read the Fine Print?

In short, yes.  Practically, for everyday use by the average, non-celebrity user, the terms on most networks are generally non-invasive enough to be ok.  If you make money through your posts, or generate interest in yourself or your brand through your posts, you do need to pay particular attention to them and everyone who works your social media presence needs to have a working knowledge of them.  As to the fine print, if you are a brand and are running contests through any social network, come back next week and we will talk about the pitfalls there.

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