Businesses use social media to enhance their brand identity and to
communicate and identify with their customers. However, businesses often
turn a blind eye to the potential copyright infringement ramifications that
may arise from unlawful use and distribution of content on social media
platforms. To that end, this article examines the copyright risks associated
with distributing content on social media platforms and discusses how to
mitigate risks associated with social media.
Unauthorized Use of Content
"Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution
and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible
medium of expression."
General; see 17 U.S.C. § 102. Copyright ownership
grants the owner the exclusive right to do and authorize the following:
- to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
- to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work;
distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by
sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
- in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works,
pantomimes, motion pictures, and other audiovisual works, to perform the
copyright work publicly; and
- in the case of sound recordings, to
perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio
See 17 U.S.C. § 106. Copyright protection
attaches to an original work of authorship from the moment of a work's
creation. As a result, copyright protection extends to Internet content upon
creation. A copyright infringer is "anyone who violates any of the exclusive
rights of the copyright owner." See 17 U.S.C. § 501.
Social networking sites allow users to post content, such as photos, videos,
and other digital files, for public viewing, inevitably resulting in the
distribution of copyrighted material. Indeed, social media business users
frequently upload content to enhance their brand image and to communicate
with their customers. Oftentimes, businesses post content that is not their
original work of authorship but instead originates from a different source.
Further, businesses post this content without ever obtaining the original
author's consent and without giving the original author the proper
attribution. In the absence of a fruitful defense, such careless posting
could open a company up to liability for copyright infringement.
the following example. You are a restaurant owner in Dallas, and one
evening, Troy Aikman dines in your restaurant. Troy Aikman takes a picture
of himself and his guests at the table and posts this picture on his Facebook page. It must be your lucky day, because this picture has your
restaurant's sign and beautiful decor in the background. You take this
picture from Troy Aikman's Facebook page and post it on your restaurant's
Facebook page to advertise your business. Believe it or not, your actions
may rise to copyright infringement. The photographer is the author of the
photograph and, as such, the copyright ownership vests in him. Therefore,
when you took his original work of authorship and posted it on your social
media website without his permission and without giving him the proper
attribution, you may have infringed his copyright rights.
example where a customer purchases your product and writes and posts an
article praising the product on his or her blog. The author of that article
is the owner of the copyright that attaches to the publication of that
article. Therefore, you may not repost this article on your company's Facebook page to advertise your product without the author's permission.
Such posting without consent could subject you to liability for copyright
Damages Associated with Copyright Infringement
are found to infringe a copyright, you may be liable for either (1) actual
damages and any additional profits of the infringer or (2) statutory
damages. See 17 U.S.C. § 504(a). If the copyright owner
elects to recover statutory damages instead of actual damages, the owner may
recover a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000.
See 17 U.S.C. § 504(c). Further, if a court finds that the copyright
infringement was willful, the court may increase damages up to $150,000.
Mitigating Risk Associated with Social Media
can see, copyright infringement may subject a business to large damages, and
thus it is a very serious concern for those businesses that actively promote
and communicate with customers through social media. Consequently, before
posting content on a social media portal, you should consider whether the
content is the original work of someone else and whether you have the legal
right to post and distribute such content. If you are not sure whether you
have the right to post the content, you should consult your in-house counsel
or other legal counsel to understand your rights and the risks.
alleviate copyright infringement concerns associated with your company's use
of social media, you should advise employees of the consequences associated
with social media and adopt a thorough and manageable social media policy.
The policy should advise employees of their responsibilities and privileges
associated with social media use. It is important to educate employees on
what constitutes copyrighted content. Further, it is important to stress the
potential copyright ramifications of posting unauthorized content without
the author's consent.
While social media platforms are a
useful tool for businesses to enhance their brand identity and to
communicate and identify with their customers, the risks associated with
posting content on social media websites should not be ignored. Indeed,
before posting content on a social media platform, it is important to
consider whether you have any legal right to post content or whether such
posting could subject you to copyright infringement liability. If you are
unsure about whether you have the legal right to post certain content,
consult your in-house counsel or other legal counsel to understand your