Copyright in the Digital Age

The digital age has ushered in an explosion in creative collaboration, not the least of which is made possible by various social media platforms. For creators and consumers alike, the ability to share, engage and experiment with this elastic, new medium has created as many opportunities as challenges. Among the challenges facing the professional creative community is the notion that all rights are suspended once social media cannibalizes content. It is a widely held, if mistaken, belief that copyright law does not reach popular platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and the like.

The misconception stems from the belief that participating in these online platforms is akin to signing away one’s rights. Additionally, many view the voracity with which social media platforms have conquered the public sphere as tantamount to the days of the wild west, where law’s grinding slowness permits the users to do whatever they want with little or no consequence. The worst part about these mistaken beliefs is not that they are wrong, but that they discourage creators from fully taking advantage of these innovations in how we communicate. It is our intention to change that impulse to revert, to conserve, to abstain and withdraw – both in our clients and in the creative community at large.

First, let’s be clear: the Copyright Act extends to social media platforms. In fact, it rewards and encourages the same kind of sentiment – to share, to create, and to engage. While being vigilant is always wise, hoarding your work, whether in your desk drawer or on your laptop, has never been encouraged by U.S. Copyright Laws. The laws aim to foster an environment where creators readily share work because they feel confident that it will be protected and infringers will be adequately punished.

Second, don’t be naïve. This may seem at odds with advice heretofore but it bears repeating that no one will care about protecting your work, if you don’t care about protecting your work. Register you work with Copyright Office. If your work is on social media, then it is arguably published for the purposes of the Copyright Act, so register it as such. This matters because the laws encourage putting one’s talent and skill into the marketplace and reward those who have bestowed their gifts onto the world. Be a generous creator and register your works as published!

Third, you are in control. Many of these social media platforms feature privacy settings which are underutilized. If you only want certain people to see your photography, then set your privacy settings accordingly. If you don’t want people to crop, alter, repost or do anything to your image, let your privacy setting reflect those preferences. Think of privacy setting as crafting your own contract with the social media platform to specify the terms of use.

Fourth, don’t assume anything. Social media has allowed many to turn interests and hobbies into promotional empires. Just because it seems like an innocent, if silly, post – doesn’t mean it is not commercial in nature. As companies utilize social media more to market their wares via endorsements, the division between a private individual user and corporate interests becomes blurred.

Fifth, that also applies to you. The most resistance we get is from members of the creative community who refuse to admit that they also have business interests, that work is a commercial endeavor. Beyond registering, add a watermark to your photographs. It is another technological measure to encourage proper licensing. It deters infringement and provides for additional remedies from those undeterred by said measures.

Finally, feel free to engage with the world. The laws are neither too slow nor antiquated to protect your rights as a creator. From the Statute of Anne through its many incarnations, copyright law persists through the advent of new technology, social and political revolution, preferring those who unabashedly strive to create, to offer new aesthetics and to push our horizons. And for those who would undercut our values in copyright – there are always damages.