Understanding and respecting legal boundaries is essential for responsible social media management for any business or creator using social media. Non-compliance can potentially lead to legal penalties and reputational damage.
Dec 24, 2023
Social media law is an evolving legal field encompassing both criminal law and civil litigation. Compliance with legal guidelines and regulations on social media is crucial for brands to avoid legal repercussions that can arise from non-compliance. Following simple legal principles will protect your brand or business from lawsuits and various penalties. Failure to follow legal principles such as copyright protections can also result in damage to your brand's reputation and a loss in trust from your customers and social media followers.
Legal issues in social media is often related to user-generated content and the platforms that host or disseminate this content. Another major topic in social media law is privacy, specifically relating to the individual rights of social media users as well as those of third parties, such as instances where photographs are shared online without consent of the individuals featured in them. Additionally, social media content can deal with issues of defamation, where false statements made on a social media platform can be harmful to another individuals reputation. Social media law also encompasses intellectual property (IP) rights, considering how material posted on social networks may violate copyright, trademark, or other forms of IP protection, which can lead to legal disputes and enforcement actions. Advertising law is also a consideration and increasingly relevant as social media is the primary advertising channel for many brands and businesses.
Copyright Laws in Social Media
When you produce a creative piece, like a photograph, meme, poem, or song, and record it in a tangible form, you automatically hold the copyright for that creation. Copyright laws also apply to content posted on social media platforms, meaning that you retain copyright over your own posted materials. Similarly, you are not permitted to share someone else's copyrighted content on social media without their consent. It's important to note that when you upload content to a social media platform, you're implicitly consenting to the platform's terms of service. Typically, these terms include granting the platform a license to utilize your content. Furthermore, this action permits other users to redistribute your work on the same platform, provided your privacy settings permit sharing. As a social media user, it's crucial to be aware of and adhere to these terms of service that you agree to by using the platform.
There are certain circumstances where using someone else's content might be allowable, specifically if the usage qualifies under the principles of fair use or fair dealing. These legal doctrines provide a framework for determining when the reproduction of copyrighted material can occur without the need for the copyright holder's permission. Fair use in the United States assesses factors such as the purpose and nature of the use, the amount of the work used in relation to its whole, and the effect of the use on the potential market for the original work. For instance, using a small excerpt from a book for educational purposes or a brief clip from a film for a critical review might qualify as fair use. In the context of social media, determining whether content usage constitutes fair use involves these key factors.
Purpose and Character of Use
This factor, which scrutinizes the purpose behind content sharing, holds particular implications for brands and businesses operating on social media. Non-commercial, educational, or transformative uses of content are typically more favored in the context of fair use. For example, a brand might use a clip from a documentary in a Facebook post to spark an educational discussion or to provide industry-relevant insights, which is often deemed acceptable. For businesses, this means that while leveraging content for educational or transformative purposes can be a valuable tool in their social media strategy, they must be cautious not to cross into commercial content, which could infringe upon copyright laws. The use of such content should ideally add value or provide a unique perspective, aligning with the brand's messaging or educational goals. In cases where the content is used to directly promote a product or service or forms a significant part of a marketing effort, it may not be protected under the fair use doctrine and could expose the business to legal risks.
Nature of the Copyrighted Work
This aspect of fair use evaluation takes into account the inherent nature of the content being disseminated on social media. Content that is inherently educational or academic in nature, like a quote from a scholarly article shared within a professional LinkedIn group, often falls comfortably within the boundaries of fair use. On the other hand, sharing a video primarily intended for entertainment, such as a clip from a popular TV show or movie on Instagram, is less likely to be considered fair use, especially if it doesn't add educational or critical value to the conversation. For content creators and social media users, this distinction underscores the importance of considering the original purpose and context of the material they wish to share. By focusing on content that serves an educational, informative, or critical purpose, users can better navigate the complexities of fair use on social media platforms.
Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used
This aspect of fair use assessment critically examines both the quantity and the importance of the portion of the work used. When sharing content on social media, such as a brief excerpt of a video on Twitter, it may fall under fair use if the shared segment is a minor fraction of the entire work and doesn't disclose its essential elements or plot points. For instance, posting a short, non-spoiler clip from a film for the purpose of review or discussion could be considered fair use. However, if the shared portion constitutes a significant part of the work, or if it includes key moments or proprietary information, it's less likely to be viewed as fair use. This distinction is crucial for social media users and content creators, as it emphasizes the need to be judicious in the amount of content they share, especially when it comes to copyrighted material. Ensuring that the shared portion is minimal and not central to the work helps maintain the balance between fair use and copyright infringement.
Effect of the Use on the Work’s Market Value
This factor considers the economic impact of sharing content on the original work's market value. If the dissemination of content on platforms like Facebook involves sharing a complete article, it could diminish the audience's incentive to engage with the original source, adversely affecting its marketability and potential revenue streams. This scenario often falls outside the scope of fair use, as it directly competes with the original work for the same audience. For content creators and social media users, this underscores the importance of sharing only portions of a work that won't replace the need for the original, thereby ensuring that the original creator's market opportunities aren't undermined. When the shared content serves as a substitute for the original work, such as reproducing an entire article or a significant part of a video, it's more likely to be seen as a violation of copyright, as it can significantly reduce the demand for the original.
In social media, what is defined as the "transformative" nature of how content is used plays a pivotal role in determining its eligibility for fair use. When shared content is altered to introduce new expression, meaning, or message, such as remixing a music clip with unique graphics or commentary for a YouTube video, it often qualifies as transformative. This kind of creative modification can shift the original work into a new context or provide a different perspective, making it more likely to be considered fair use. On the other hand, merely reposting content from another user, without adding substantial change or insightful commentary, generally doesn't meet the transformative criterion. This lack of transformation is especially relevant on platforms like Instagram or Twitter, where reposting without modification is common.
For content creators, understanding this distinction is important. Ideally this should guide them to work creatively with existing works, ensuring their social media content remains within the legal boundaries of fair use, rather than simply duplicating content that could infringe on the original creator's rights.