Who Owns What on Social Media?

Who owns what?

Consumers love social media sites because they offer free services we can access just about anywhere, anytime, and do what we like there. But we pay for the service in a number of subtle ways. One being the right to own what we create.

The debate over copyright materials posted on social media sites seems to come and go, and rear up again every time something changes.

For instance, the recent revelation that Twitter is making billions selling its comprehensive archives of tweets — data that, taken cumulatively, has the power to predict election outcomes and consumer spending — has given many individual users pause.

This is because Twitter won’t let you see your own archived posts. Within a week or so, an individual’s Twitter feed drops off the computer screen and goes into the pool of the billion or so tweets written every month on the site.

This is in contrast to Facebook, which lets you see all your old posts and messages. Mind you, you’re “paying” for this service via advertising and the selling of your information, but just in different, but still potentially worrying, ways.

Over to Pinterest, the image-driven social media site that has consumer-driven types posting pictures of their favourite shoes, dream wheels, hairstyles and celebrities.

The legal community has been having a good time of late debating the legality of posting copyrighted materials without giving the creator credit, much less asking his or her permission.

Talk of “fair use” and questioning whether anyone would ever bother to sue for posting a photographer’s shot of a wedding dress are offering much fodder for debate.

On an intellectual level, many of us care whether we own what we create and we don’t want to exchange these rights for a free service, or undermine anyone else’s copyright for our own amusement.

But in the digital age, creative ownership is such a grey area that few of us truly understand it, and understand it enough to get truly outraged about it.

Until there’s a case of true harm, or a nasty lawsuit, the notion of intellectual property will remain too fuzzy to impact our social media habits.