A Penny For Their Creations - Apprising Users' Value of Copyrights in Their Social Media Content
106 Pages Posted: 4 May 2022
Date Written: April 10, 2022
Every day, 3.5 billion social media users—among them musicians, visual artists, writers, designers, and other creators—routinely upload their creative work to social media, thereby subjecting their copyrights in those works to a laundry list of draconian demands. Although users usually retain ownership rights in their uploaded content according to most platforms’ terms of service agreements, they often grant platforms unbridled license to their work that goes way beyond what is reasonably needed to operate the platform. Most licenses, for example, allow platforms to modify and commercialize their users’ content and create derivative works from that content. Some licenses require users to waive claims for attribution to their works or compensation for ideas they submitted to the platforms. Finally, nearly all licenses are defined to be irrevocable (users cannot terminate them), perpetual (they last indefinitely even if the user deletes their account), and sublicensable (platforms have full discretion to extend them to third parties). Do users appreciate the breadth of the licensing agreements they grant social media platforms for original content? Would they understand them if they were to read them? Most importantly, do users care? Would they change their social media “sharing” habits or stop using a social media platform if they had more information? This final question, which focuses on the salience of user-generated content licensing terms to users—defined by the degree to which terms are sufficiently prominent in users’ awareness to impact decision making—has become one of the primary benchmarks for evaluating the need for regulatory intervention in mass-market contracting. These inquiries are fundamental to the information age, when user-generated content—much of which is copyright protected—shapes culture, discourse, and communities. Nevertheless, these questions have remained surprisingly unanswered. This Article fills these gaps. It presents the results of the first comprehensive large-sample empirical study on user-generated content licensing and user attitude towards those policies. Specifically, the study investigates user awareness, understanding, and expectations of licensing terms and the salience of those terms to users’ decisions to upload their copyrighted work. Our findings reveal significant conformity in social media platforms’ licensing terms and confirm that such terms are indeed unnecessarily overbroad. Our findings also indicate that most users are unlikely to read, fully comprehend, or have realistic expectations concerning their content licensing arrangements. At the same time, our findings indicate that most users care about copyright policies and claim that they would change their social media behavior if they had more information. We then build on the study’s results with law and policy insights that encompass proposals for legal policy work on consumer form contracts and intellectual property.
Keywords: copyright, user generated content, platform, regulation
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