Social media is literally everywhere. Nearly 5B global users are generating and digesting billions of units of audio, video, media, graphics, mashups, memes, and everything in between. Do these creations follow the same rules as other types of works? In many cases, the answer is yes.  

Creators of original social media are entitled to the same protections as any other creative works. Conversely, the same rules apply when repurposing or borrowing content from others.  

Here are a few points you need to know about social media and intellectual property rights: 

Intellectual Property Rights and Social Media

Since anyone can share social media, some creators may not believe they have rights to their works, but that is not true. The issue of intellectual property for creators became a major issue in 2012. 

At that time, Instagram raised a few red flags when the platform updated its service terms, granting them the right to sell users’ photos to advertisers without compensation. Many Instagram users were furious, forcing the company to remove the clause. What might have been a simple misstep highlighted the need for all content creators to protect their content.  

Whether you use Instagram or TikTok, they all explicitly state that users retain ownership of their original content. For example:

  • Instagram: Users own their original photos and videos, with no rights granted to advertisers.
  • TikTok: Users or their licensors retain ownership of uploaded content.
  • X (Formerly Twitter): Content creators have rights to any content submitted, posted, or displayed on the platform.
  • Facebook: Users retain ownership of intellectual property rights in the content they create and share.
  • YouTube: Creators have ownership rights in their content.

Now, these platforms must request a license from the creator to use the content for promotional purposes. 

Protecting Your Content

As a social media influencer, you have a few tools to protect your intellectual property. Copyrights and trademarks are options for your content. 

  • Copyrights: When you create a social media post or video, it is automatically copyrighted upon creation. You can report the incident on the appropriate platform if someone infringes on your work, though usually only after you’ve secured a registration in the copyright. [Let’s link to some content where we talk about the value of copyright registrations)
  • Trademarks: Some influencers with unique brand elements may choose to pursue formal rights in their trademark(s).  file for trademarks. You can do this to protect logos, handles, or brand names associated with merchandise. However, a few things can and cannot be trademarked. For example, if the name is too general, you may be unable to trademark it. 

How to Avoid Infringing on Others’ Intellectual Property

Intellectual property rights are a two-way street. Here are a few responsible content-creation practices:

  • You always want to seek permission before using someone else’s work, whether it’s an illustration, soundbite, or creative content. If they say “no,” don’t use it.
  • Additionally, familiarize yourself with the intellectual property rights policies outlined in the terms of service of your platforms. 
  • Music is intellectual property. You will want to only use music that is free to use to steer clear of copyright issues.
  • When monetizing content, you should be extra vigilant to avoid unintentionally using others’ intellectual property for commercial purposes.
  • Fair use is often discussed when sharing others’ posts, videos, and music. If sharing someone else’s copyrighted work, consult an attorney to the legality of your actions. Fair use does not exist just because you think it’s “fair.”

Protect Your Social Media Content Today

While content creation is the heartbeat of social media, protecting your creations is equally important. Whether you are a serious influencer or a casual user, you will need to understand the dynamics of social media and intellectual property rights. 

If you are ready to take the next step and protect your creations, contact BOAG Law. We can help you determine whether your work is eligible for protection.  Contact us online or call 212-203-6651 for a consultation.