Who Owns Your Content?
What happens to the ownership of your original content when you post it on various sites and service on the internet?
Ah, the marvelous Web 2.0, where you are creator, consumer, and product. You post your photos to Facebook and Instagram, your business plans to LinkedIn, and spill every single emotional bean on your blog.
But who owns the content you produce? Is it still yours, or do you transfer ownership to Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn and the other sites and services you use? This used to be somewhat complicated to find out, and the information was often hidden inside long EULAs and ToS documents filled with legalese that very few consumers actually read.
Thankfully, that has changed a bit now, and many of the big companies have made an effort to create terms that are easier to understand for their users. I’m very interested in not giving away ownership to anything I post on the internet, in particular photos and everything I write. Because of that, I had a look at what some of the most popular services and sites on the internet writes about content ownership in their terms of service documents.
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer! This is my understanding of the terms, and it might or might not be correct. If you’re worried about content ownership, you should seek professional legal advice, not base your decisions on something you find on a random blog. Also, everything is based on the information that was available from the various sites and services at the time of writing. When you’re reading this, the terms and conditions might have changed - for better or for worse.
The world’s number one social media network. Facebook has been through a lot of changes since its birth 12 years ago, many of which are related to content ownership. These days, they make it very clear who owns the content their users upload to the site. To the question “do I retain the copyright and other legal rights to material I upload to Facebook?”, the answer is as follows:
Yes, you retain the copyright to your content.
Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service.
Also in June 2016, Microsoft announced that it would buy LinkedIn for a sweet $26.2 billion. If they’ll change the company’s publishing platform guidelines when the takeover is complete remains to be seen, but in the current version the question of content ownership is pretty clear cut:
Content published on LinkedIn’s publishing platform remains your work. You own the rights to any original posts you publish.
Twitter co-founder Evan William got a bit tired of his own company’s 140 character limit per tweet, and went ahead and created Medium in 2012. Today, the online publishing platform gets around 25-30 million unique users each month, and from their Terms of Service, there is no doubt who owns content that is published using the platform:
You own the rights to the content you create and post on Medium.
At the time of writing, Tumblr hosts a massive 306.5 million blogs. The site has been around since 2007, and with a business model solely based on user generated ramblings, it’s good to see that their Terms of Service makes it very clear who owns everything:
You retain ownership you have of any intellectual property you post to Tumblr.
Blogger is one of the internet’s longest running blogging platforms. Launched all the way back in 1999, which is ancient times by internet standards, it’s now owned and operated by Google, and therefore covered by their very clear Terms of Service:
Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.
For the sites we’ve been looking at so far, it’s been obvious who owns the content you publish: It’s you. It’s interesting to see, then, that the first service which doesn’t make their terms and conditions regarding content ownership crystal clear is WordPress.com, the internet’s most popular blogging platform.
Their Terms of Service doesn’t explicitly define content ownership, nor does their copyright and fair use page. The question of content ownership has been raised on the WordPress.com forum many times, and while the replies say that content ownership and copyright stay with the user when they publish using the WordPress.com platform, none of this information can be found in the ToS.
A post on Quora is a great summary of the information it’s possible to piece together, and well worth a read.
Most service spell out in very clear terms, how they handle content ownership. I find it interesting to see that WordPress.com doesn’t. But while they don’t, it’s fair to assume that they won’t screw you over and run away with your stuff.
One thing you should have in the back of your mind, though - and this goes for every service you upload content to - is that you always give the service a license to use what you upload in pretty much every way they want. Take this excerpt from Tumblr’s ToS, for instance:
[…] you grant Tumblr a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable right and license to use, host, store, cache, reproduce, publish, display (publicly or otherwise), perform (publicly or otherwise), distribute, transmit, modify, adapt […]
Another thing to consider is that the services reserve the right to remove your content and block you from accessing it if they feel you’ve breached their ToS. This means that even if you own your content, you might no longer have access to it. The service might also go out of business, leaving you with the short end of the stick - and no access to your content.
So make sure you have local backups of everything important!
This post has no feedback yet.
Do you have any thoughts you want to share? A question, maybe? Or is something in this post just plainly wrong? Then please send an e-mail to
vegard at vegard dot net with your input. You can also use any of the other points of contact listed on the About page.
It looks like you're using Google's Chrome browser, which records everything you do on the internet. Personally identifiable and sensitive information about you is then sold to the highest bidder, making you a part of surveillance capitalism.
The Contra Chrome comic explains why this is bad, and why you should use another browser.