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The present paper is devoted to the topic of the ownership of social media posts (for example, Facebook posts). The topic appears to be underrepresented in modern studies, which might be explained by the fact that social media is a rather recently developed and under-researched area (Edwards, 2016; Marshall & Shipman, 2015). As a result of its deficient representation in scholarly sources, the opportunities for discussing post ownership are limited. However, the extensive use of social media nowadays implies that this area of human activity requires investigation and legal regulation, which is why the present research attempts to synthesize the currently available information on the topic to encourage its discussion. The main argument of the present paper is that the area of the ownership of social media posts contains a notable number of issues and challenges that require extensive discussion to improve legal regulation. To support the argument, the paper considers the term “social media post,” defines ownership regulations related to it, and proceeds to discuss the issues, which are connected to the topic. In the end, a conclusion about the significance of extensive discussion of post ownership is made.
Social Media Posts and Ownership
A social media post can be defined as a single item of content, which is posted with the help of social media websites or applications (Wiener, 2017). The content of posts may include various types of textual and visual information, which can vary in its sensitivity and the level of creative value. As a result, there are certain nuances to the ownership of posts.
Generally, social media posts can be protected and governed by copyright legislation; the specific ownership rights may vary from country to country and include those related to reproduction, distribution, display, and modification (Edwards, 2016; Olson, 2013). Any content receives copyright protection since the moment of it being “fixed” in a “medium of expression,” which implies that social media posts are protected since the moment when they are posted (Olson, 2013, p. 76).
However, certain types of posts may be not protected by copyright. For example, Olson (2013) reports that in the US, such posts include those presenting factual information, short posts, and the posts that contain personal updates, opinions, and ideas that do not bear “the level of creative expression necessary” for copyright protection (p. 76). In other words, to ensure the protection of one’s post, its owner might need to prove that it is subject to copyright; it is not illegal to use and modify content that is not subject to copyright.
Issues and Solutions
A number of issues are related to post ownership, and some of them can be linked to the specifics of social media. Indeed, social media remains under-researched and underregulated (Edwards, 2016), which may be attributed to its volatile nature (Marshall & Shipman, 2015). This volatility also results in a wide variety of events, which social media ownership regulations need to take into account. For instance, social media introduces new multiple means of “sharing” content, some of which may require particular consideration. In particular, providing links to content is unlikely to involve copyright infringement since the process does not presuppose any use, distribution, or reproduction, but the legal status of the phenomenon of embedded content is less apparent (Olson, 2013, p. 78). Given the fact that social media is also under-researched, the process of the determination of appropriate regulation practices related to the topic appears to be rather complicated.
It is also notable that the format of social media typically makes ownership rights infringement rather easy to perform because of the ease and extent of access to the content (Edwards, 2016). In particular, the cases of reposting and reusing posts can become questionable from the point of view of the law as well as the platform’s policies (Marshall & Shipman, 2015). Attribution can resolve the problem in the case of the private use of content (Edwards, 2016). However, the lack of ownership awareness in social media users often makes the use of this copyright protection mechanism less likely.
Indeed, modern studies demonstrate that media users do not appear to have a clear understanding of ownership rights when social media content is concerned (Marshall & Shipman, 2015; Wiener, 2017). In general, they project different views and attitudes: for instance, some of the respondents of the study by Wiener (2017) know that the specifics of the content may affect the details of ownership rights. However, other respondents of the same study report sharing the incorrect belief that the act of posting content presupposes giving up any rights to it. In other words, the lack of legal literacy in active social media users can be regarded as an issue from the point of view of ownership rights protection.
To sum up, the key concerns that are related to social media ownership include the difficulty in regulating a volatile environment, which is rather convenient for rights infringement and the lack of user awareness. It is also discovered that some mechanisms of resolving the issues are already practiced, but the lack of research on these mechanisms suggests that it is difficult to make conclusions on their effectiveness. It should be pointed out that the present paper provides an overview of the issues and does not intend to list every one of them, but even the mentioned difficulties can be regarded as sufficient evidence to the fact that the topic of post ownership requires extensive investigation.
Having considered the topic of social media post ownership, the present paper can offer several conclusions. Social media context can earn the protection granted by copyright in multiple cases which depends on the copyright legislation of a particular country. However, there are certain difficulties in establishing specific regulations for individual cases and protecting ownership rights from infringement. These difficulties can be partially explained by the volatile nature of social media.
Indeed, social media is an under-investigated and rather volatile area, and while social media companies and users have developed some mechanisms of resolving copyright issues, research on these mechanisms is still lacking. As a result, there is no dialogue on the topic, which limits the opportunity for the discussion of challenges and the meaningful development of existing practices. Therefore, the ongoing investigation of post ownership is of utmost importance.
Edwards, C. (2016). The art of posting: Social media, copyright and artist attribution. Internet Law Bulletin, 5, 326-330.
Marshall, C. C., & Shipman, F. M. (2015). Exploring the ownership and persistent value of Facebook content. In D. Cosley & A. Forte (Eds.), 18th ACM conference on computer supported cooperative work (pp. 712-723). Vancouver, Canada: CSCW.
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Olson, K. K. (2013). Intellectual property. In D. Stewart (Ed.), Social media and the law (pp. 73-97). London, UK: Routledge.
Wiener, P. (2017). Social media user’s views on the ethics of social media research. In L. Sloan & A. Quan-Haase (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of social media research methods (pp. 57-73). London, UK: Sage.