Copyright Protection for Text and Multimedia Messages over Social Media

Copyright Protection for Text and Multimedia Messages over Social Media

The 21st Century came with a great deal of potential intellectual property issues. From patents for artificially intelligent machines to trademark licensing for transnational corporations, IP stands central to human interactions. Social media and its attendant instant messaging is also one of the best gifts of this age to mankind. According to recent statistics by DataReportal, 3.8 billion people actively use social media. That is approximately half of the world’s population and 63% of the world’s population old enough (13 years and above) to use social media. Apparently, with this multitude of people texting, tweeting and “captioning”, there cannot be a want of intellectual property concerns. Put perspective into proper perspective, are messages shared over WhatsApp, Messenger or Telegram, for example, copyright protected? Or do tweets and captions on the other hand enjoy copyright protection?

In the past centuries where personal letters were the main medium of communication, these letters enjoyed copyright protection as they fulfilled all requirements –they were intrinsically creative/original and were fixated. This rule is more complex than we imagine when social media is involved. The general rule for instant messaging is that there is a possibility of copyright protection provided the text, irrespective of how short, satisfies the presence of original content. The author of such text should normally hold the copyright but in instances where the originality of the text is conversational and dependent on response from the other party, it is proposed that copyright be jointly owned. By implication, the author(s) have the right to use, reproduce and gain commercial benefit. It is understood however that messaging occurs within apps and social media platforms and these platforms have Terms of Use or Privacy Policies which determine who owns copyright and how the content may be used.

WhatsApp, the third most used social media platform has a strict privacy policy that ensures security of conversations from third parties – including WhatsApp, and Facebook. In essence, WhatsApp determines that you own copyright to original texts you put out in a conversation or otherwise on a text status update and they will not be shared to others on WhatsApp or Facebook or third party apps and individuals. WhatsApp’s terms of service however provides that you grant them “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferrable license to use, reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, display… information that upload, submit, store, send or receive on or through our services”. Your fears are allayed as this legalese simply means that you grant WhatsApp limited rights to hold your content (text and non-text) for smooth running of WhatsApp operations like delivery up of your text and multimedia messages, putting up of your profile picture etc. With regards to Intellectual Property generally, WhatsApp frowns at the infringement of their intellectual property and those of other users. Infringers risks termination of their accounts. However, the general public can use or share your original texts under the fair use doctrine or where such is used with your permission.

The same rule for text messaging applies to Instagram and Facebook. Nevertheless, it is important to know that once you sign up for Facebook and Instagram’s services, you license to them basically all your right to text and multimedia content you post publicly (non-exclusively). This means that they do not claim ownership of your content (that’s indispensably yours) but you grant them permission to use it; a very wide permission. Instagram is owned by Facebook and Facebook’s Data Use Policy enables it to share your data with other companies that Facebook owns. Again, you are solely responsible for the content you put out on these platforms. It is against their terms of use for you to post content infringing another’s IPR (copyright or trademark). You could be asked to take down the offending content once an Intellectual Property Infringement report has been made. For repeat offenders, their accounts may be suspended. There is also a provision to report Intellectual Property Infringement on WhatsApp.

Author: Ibukun Adisa-Simon

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