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Copyright in the Social Media World

People often think of copyright as a tool reserved for artists and writers, as something that only protects books or music or movies. However, the reality is that copyright protection applies to much more than that. According to the statute, copyright law protects “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Additionally, the bar for originality is low. Courts are not in the business of judging a work’s artistic merit. To be original something must simply have some “spark of creativity,” and not be copied.

This broad protection for original pictures and writings gives rise to interesting new issues in the world of social media. People are constantly writing blog posts and Facebook statuses, sending tweets, and posting pictures. That natural question, “Does copyright protect any of this?” The answer: sometimes.

Easy Cases

To be sure, there are certainly easy cases where copyright law protects social media posts. If a person takes a picture and posts it on Instagram, they likely have a copyright in that photo. If a person writes a blog post, they can prevent other sites from reproducing it. However, even those easier cases are subject to some caveats.

The biggest caveat is fair use. Fair use is a nebulous legal doctrine that protects people who are taking copyrighted work for a limited purpose. Generally, courts will look at why the person is taking the work, how they are using it, the type of work taken, how much of the work was taken, and the effect of that taking on the market for the original work. A news site that takes a person’s blog post, reposts it and claims credit for it is probably on the hook for copyright violation. Conversely, another blogger who is not making money off their blog and only takes a quote from the post along with a link to the original is much more likely to be protected by fair use.

Open Questions

There are also some pieces of social media content where courts still have not come to a clear decision on whether copyright law even applies in the first place. Generally, these are shorter writings, such as Facebook statuses or tweets. The issue is that it is much harder for shorter writings to demonstrate the necessary originality to qualify as copyrightable. However, particularly creative writings or a longer series of tweets may find it easier to rise to the level of copyrightability.

Claims against the Site itself

It is also important to note that these rules about copyright generally apply to third parties that are reproducing the works, not the social media sites themselves. Those sites tend to be immune for copyright claims because the terms of service on the websites usually include a license to use copyrighted material posted on them in exchange for being allowed to use the site. However, the specifics of such licenses vary from website to website.

Copyright law is an expansive field and its reach seems to be growing by the day. If you believe that someone is improperly using your copyrighted work, contact a West Palm Beach copyright lawyer at Pike & Lustig, LLP today.

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