The Devil is in the Details: Social Media’s Right to Your Content

First let me just say I am not a copyright librarian, law librarian, or anybody who specializes in fair use, perpetual use, distribution, etc.  I am a plain ol’ medical librarian who pretty much knows you can’t use other people’s copyrighted stuff without paying for it or asking permission.  Regarding my own content, that I post out there I am kind of naive.

I am not naive in thinking that whatever I post can be seen by anyone. Oh I am well aware of that.  What I am naive about are the various policies regarding user generated content on multiple social media sites.  We all click through their license and usage agreements and few people sit down a read through the legal jargon to figure out the details.  There is the problem, the devil is in the details.

This issue has come up in the past. I remember an article about about Stefanie Gordon’s famous Space Shuttle picture and Janis Krum’s famous Hudson River plane photo.  Both posted their photos on Twitter using Twitpic, and both photos were used and copied commerically without compensation. Part of the problem could be how they posted their photo.  By using Twitpic both Gordon and Krum lost all exclusive rights to their own photo.  Twitpic has the rights to resell any images loaded by original rights holders (people who post their own photos to share on Twitpic).  Just by loading their picture on Twitpic they gave Twitpic the right to resell the image or distribute it. 

Kind of frustrating.  I am by no means a professional photographer and I am never in the right place at the right time to share a picture like the space shuttle bursting through the clouds, but it still kind of irks me that by using Twitpic I lose my excluse rights to the photo.

This is not unique to Twitpic.  Earlier this week Heather Holmes tweeted about Pinterest’s policy about things you would “pin.”  According to PRNewswire article, Unpinned, Pinterest requires people to pin only things they own and Pinterest is granted rights to that material that was pinned. 

Pinterest users can only pin content that they are the sole and exclusive owner of all or that they have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms.

Those terms would be…  grant Pinterest operator Cold Brew Labs a “worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.”

As the article states, most of the people on Pinterest are out of compliance with Pinterest’s policy terms.  Not only do people pin things they don’t own but I am pretty sure that they also don’t have the rights to grant Pinterest that content. Judging from what some people are pinning, they don’t seem to realize they no longer retain exclusive rights to the stuff they do own and pin. 

This got me thinking about my photos and all the stuff I have online and the stuff I would like to retain excluse rights to.  So I did a little digging around within various social media platforms and discovered that Pinterest is not alone.  Pretty much if you are involved in social media, there is at least one platform you belong to that by just posting on it you grant the company rights to your content. 

Companies that if you use, you grant them rights to your content:


You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Google+: (Scroll down to number 11)

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

 LinkedIn: (Section 2B)

You own the information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time, unless you have shared information or content with others and they have not deleted it, or it was copied or stored by other users. Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties. Any information you submit to us is at your own risk of loss as noted in Sections 2 and 3 of this Agreement.


By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.


Subscriber shall own all Subscriber Content that Subscriber contributes to the Site, but hereby grants and agrees to grant Tumblr a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, transferable right and license (with the right to sublicense), to use, copy, cache, publish, display, distribute, modify, create derivative works and store such Subscriber Content and to allow others to do so (“Content License”) in order to provide the Services.



You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic. However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

You also hereby grant each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service. Different from

By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog. If you delete Content, Automattic will use reasonable efforts to remove it from the Website, but you acknowledge that caching or references to the Content may not be made immediately unavailable.

Companies that I am confused about:

Twitter: (Anything public you put out they will distribute to market your persona.)

Our Services are primarily designed to help you share information with the world. Most of the information you provide to us is information you are asking us to make public. This includes not only the messages you Tweet and the metadata provided with Tweets, such as when you Tweeted, but also the lists you create, the people you follow, the Tweets you mark as favorites or Retweet and many other bits of information. Our default is almost always to make the information you provide public but we generally give you settings ( to make the information more private if you want. Your public information is broadly and instantly disseminated. For example, your public Tweets are searchable by many search engines and are immediately delivered via SMS and our APIs ( to a wide range of users and services. You should be careful about all information that will be made public by Twitter, not just your Tweets.

Kind of confused by their terms of service policy about what I post. In one sentence they say I retain my rights but in the other they say by using their service I am granting them the non-exclusive rights to distribute, copy, etc.

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).


I am not sure. I don’t see anything in their terms of service or their privacy policies about content that users post.

Companies that do not get non-exclusive rights to your content simply by using their product:


Flickr’s policy appears to preserve your rights to your content.  It all depends on how you license your content on their site.  Also interesting, Flickr recently went after Pinterest blocking users from pinning copyrighted material on Flickr. Based on their policy and the recent blocking of Pinterest, it appears that Flickr does not get non-exclusive, irrevocable, yada yada use and distribution of your content. Different from

With you are using their software to publish your material on your own domain.  They have no wording in their policies stating that the use of their software grants them rights to your content. They do however have  your information and they collect non-identifying information for statistics and software development. Personal data they have will only be released under specific circumstances.

 However, you might want to check with your domain host to see if by using them they get non-exclusive rights to your content.

*Note* If you use or another blog and you post it through Facebook then you are granting Facebook permission to have non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use your blog content. Perhaps if you want your blog content featured on Facebook but you want to retain your rights you might just give the link and brief 2 sentence description on your Facebook post.

MySpace: Not many people use it any more but those who do don’t have to worry about MySpace using their content

Myspace does not claim any ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, applications, or any other materials (collectively, “Content”) that you transmit, submit, display or publish (“post”) on, through or in connection with the Myspace Services. After posting your Content on, through or in connection with the Myspace Services, you continue to retain any such rights that you may have in your Content, subject to the limited license herein. By posting any Content on, through or in connection with the Myspace Services, you hereby grant to Myspace a limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce, and distribute such Content solely on, through or in connection with the Myspace Services, including, without limitation, through the Myspace Services to applications, widgets, websites or mobile, desktop or other services which are linked with your Myspace account (collectively, “Linked Services”), including, without limitation, distributing part or all of the Myspace Services and any Content included therein, in any media formats and through any media channels, except that Content marked “private” will not be distributed by Myspace outside the Myspace Services and Linked Services.

 yfrog: (Service for tweeting out pictures)

The content that you distribute through the ImageShack Network is owned by you, and you give ImageShack permission to display and distribute said content exclusively on the ImageShack Network.

You may revoke this permission at any time by requesting your content to be removed. Such requests will be processed within a maximum period of 24 hours (but usually as short as one hour). You may request deletion and/or mark your content private through our sites’ user interfaces, or by contacting ImageShack directly. After your request is processed, ImageShack will cease distribution of your content within a maximum period of 24 hours (but usually as short as one hour) and will absolve itself of any ownership of said content, implied or otherwise.

ImageShack will not sell or distribute your content to third parties or affiliates without your permission. Third parties may exercise the following options regarding your content:

  • Third parties may hyperlink to the page that displays your content on the ImageShack Network without modification and with proper attribution to you.
  • Third parties may request permission to use your content by contacting you directly.

All requests for permission regarding your content usage directed at ImageShack will be forwarded to you. All uploaded content is copyrighted to its respective owners. ImageShack directs full legal responsibility of said content to their respective owners. All content generated by ImageShack is copyrighted by ImageShack. ImageShack is not responsible for any uploaded content, nor is it in affiliation with any entities that may be represented in the uploaded content.


This list isn’t comprehensive, isn’t intended to be legal advice and if I have something wrong please let me know.  If you use another social medial site and want to feature it in the list, please leave a comment and I will integrate it into the list.

I didn’t list every single social media company out there so if you use one and are concerned take a look at their policies.  As I said in the beginning. the devil is in the details. It is almost impossible to participate in social media without some exposure and granting some companies rights non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use your content.  The key is knowing what you can live with.  As I mentioned, I don’t post my entire blog on Facebook.  I do have a few pictures (family, renovations, vacations, etc.) on Facebook, but that isn’t my entire photobook. My entire photo collection lives on Flickr and I upload specific pictures from Flickr to Facebook.  Additionally, I am trying to get in the practice of using yfrog for tweeting out pictures. 

The idea with social media (and everything else) is read the instruction manual (policies) and use with caution and thought.

9 thoughts on “The Devil is in the Details: Social Media’s Right to Your Content”

  1. At this time it appears like Movable Type is the top blogging
    platform available right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

  2. I’m certainly no lawyer, but as to the Twitter seemingly contradictory remarks of “You retain your rights to any Content you submit…” vs. “…you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce…”. I think the term “non-exclusive” implies that they don’t have exclusive rights to your posted content, but that you retain the right to use or redistribute your content as well. You just can’t stop them from doing so, too. E-bay has similar language in their terms.

  3. This is an important topic, and even after reading this I still don’t really understand what I am agreeing to when using these services. I think it would take an example of an egregious problem to say “Oh, that’s not right.” We all (or at least I) seem to assume that all is well unless we’re shown otherwise. I will be investigating further, and appreciate any other tips or examples of problems that might arise. With gratitude.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to summarize this for us. Your posts are valuable in that they address those real issues we are all thinking about but don’t have a chance to consider in more detail. We appreciate this!

  5. Fixed it. Thanks for picking up my late night error. A reminder to check and double check prior to post. And if I finish it late at night triple check.

  6. Great article. But, can you please fix “Socila” to “Social” so that I can send your link out to professional contacts? They won’t take it seriously with a typo. Otherwise, great job.

  7. An extremely complicated topic that really needs an expert voice, as you mentioned.
    In most of the cases above, the Subscriber is agreeing to allow the Service to distribute content only through the Service, e.g., by uploading a photo to Tumblr or Pinterest I allow it to be published on Tumblr or Pinterest and seen by other users of those sites.
    But Twitpic clearly expands beyond the Service: “the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.” Ick.

    Another important item is termination: Tumblr allows you to basically take back your content if you leave. “On termination of Subscriber’s membership to the Site and use of the Services, Tumblr shall make all reasonable efforts to promptly remove from the Site and cease use of the Subscriber Content…” In contrast, Pinterest says absolutely nothing about the Subscriber’s rights when terminating an account; it only talks about its own rights. So, what happens if you post things and then leave? There’s nothing in the terms that says Pinterest will delete the content or terminate the original content license that you agreed to. Yikes.

    Another major problem with Pinterest is the “You agree to defend” statement in the indemnity clause. Tumblr does not require the Subscriber to pay for Tumblr’s defense, it only says the usual things about indemnify and hold harmless. I don’t want to use a site that requires me to pay for its defense in a court case. Sounds like a potentially expensive way to share stuff online.

    I also do not like how Pinterest prohibits almost everything that subscribers are actually using the site to do: “Post, upload, publish, submit, provide access to or transmit any Content that: (i) infringes, misappropriates or violates a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy…” Seems a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it?

  8. Thank you for such a comprehensive collection of information regarding this issue. I’ve been reading a lot about this as well lately (mostly because Pinterest has been so in the news). This is a great summary of what to look out for. Thanks again!

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