Copyright, Trademark and Social Media

As we’ve pointed out in other posts, all that content on the internet isn’t free for the taking. Just because somebody puts their poem or picture on a website doesn’t mean anyone else is free to copy it for their own website. Contrary to common opinion, public display doesn’t equal “public domain” (a technical term under Copyright law with a pretty specific meaning).

But what about posts on social media? Who owns the rights to your Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram stories, and whatever you call stuff on TikTok? And who gets to use, display or copy them?

The answer, as is so often the case in law, is “it depends.”

Copyright in the Social Media ‘verse

Copyright protection extends to original works of authorship that are fixed in a medium of expression. The works have to be creative, but the standard for what qualifies as creative is pretty low – and it probably includes many of your posts on your favorite social media sites. That poetic ode to last night’s dinner? Copyrighted. Cat pictures? Copyrighted. A video of you singing a song you made up? Also copyrighted (it gets more complicated if you post a video of you singing your favorite Jason Isbell tune).

Owning a copyright means you get to control how your creation gets used – who can copy it, display it, change it. But that right can be modified or limited by contracts. And those user agreements you might have glanced at before clicking “Accept”? Those are contracts, and every social media platform’s contract includes terms about how the stuff you create or post on that platform can get used.

On YouTube, for example, the terms of service say you retain ownership of whatever you post – but you also “grant each other user of the Service a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to access your Content through the Service, and to use that Content, including to reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works, display, and perform it, only as enabled by a feature of the Service.” That doesn’t mean anyone can do whatever they want with your YouTube creation; other users’ rights are limited by the terms of service, too, and they are only permitted to use other people’s content within the confines of YouTube.

The other social media platforms have similar terms in their user agreements, and it’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with them if you want to protect anything you post. And no, you cannot get around those contract terms by posting something like “I do not grant Facebook/TikTok/Instagram permission to use, copy, or display the content of my posts.” They own the platform, and they get to make the rules. By accepting their user agreement and using their service, you agree to their rules. If you don’t want to follow those rules, your only option is to not use the service.

Monitor Your Trademark’s Activity on Social Media

Trademarks – brand names, logos, slogans, etc. that help customers recognize brands – are all over social media. The risk for any business is that someone else is using your trademark in their posts, or – perhaps more likely – using a trademark that is confusingly similar to yours. Either way, your customers could get confused, and your brand could be weakened. So it’s a good idea to monitor for potentially confusing trademarks so you can take steps promptly to stop infringement. If you suspect another party of trademark infringement, contact an IP attorney as soon as possible to determine the most appropriate course of action.

When in Doubt, Enlist the Support of an IP Attorney

It’s natural to have questions about your intellectual property rights, especially if you believe that another party is infringing on your rights. While enlisting the help of a trusted Minneapolis IP attorney is highly recommended in cases of potential infringement, you can always build a more informal rapport with your IP lawyer before an issue arises. Many business owners and creatives enjoy consulting an attorney to understand their intellectual property rights more clearly so they can better identify potential issues later on. Even if you have a relatively simple question, your IP attorney will be happy to provide you with trusted and practical legal guidance to help you move forward with confidence.


Discuss your intellectual property needs by calling Rubric Legal LLC today at (612) 465-0074 to speak with a knowledgeable and friendly Minneapolis IP lawyer.

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