Facebook has introduced new technology under ‘Rights Manager’ to better help content creators protect their intellectual property—specifically helping creators protect their images online.

In this article, we’ll walk you through what the current rules are, and explain how Facebook’s changes will affect the owners and publishers of posted images. 

Do I Currently Have Ownership Over Images I Post On Facebook or Instagram?

Yes, you do. 

If you are the creator of content such as images, or if you’re the owner of a trade mark, this content will be protected by the normal intellectual property rights that exist in your country. 

According to Facebook’s terms and conditions, when uploading content, you are giving Facebook a licence to use it in accordance with the privacy settings you’ve selected.

Facebook has a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content.”

Basically, this means Facebook can use your images for free, and can transfer or sub-license this lease to another, while you are still free to license the content with other entities. 

Can I Publish Content On Facebook That Doesn’t Belong To Me?

Facebook shifts the responsibility of copyright ownership to the person uploading the content by stating that the content uploaded must be owned by the person uploading it. 

Currently, Facebook is able to remove content that would violate the intellectual property rights of a third party. An example of this is if someone uploads a photo without first getting permission from the owner of the photo. 

If you upload content to Facebook without first getting permission from the creator of the content, you’ll always risk violating the author’s intellectual property rights. This is the case even if sharing an image from another user’s post.

What Changes Is Facebook Making?

Facebook is going to allow some ‘partners’ (we don’t know who they are yet) to have control over where their images show up by allowing the owner of the content to order that their images be taken down. The image would then be removed, or there would be a territorial block so it would not be able to be viewed in certain geographical areas.

This will work through ‘upload filtering’. The owner of the image can submit an application for images they want to protect by uploading a CSV file with the image metadata to facebook, and stating where the copyright applies. This is then processed with Facebook, and any images that match this file will be monitored according to the new rules. 

Problems may arise where multiple users claim they own the image, so it’ll be interesting to see how Facebook deals with this.

What’s also interesting is that these copyright rules could one day be rolled out to all users of Facebook and Instagram. But, for now, the new changes are not going to be available to everyone.

Why Are These Changes Being Made?

Facebook may have implemented this technology to coincide with new copyright laws set to start in the EU next year.  The new EU laws will mean large internet platforms (as well as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Google) will have to block content that infringes copyright

The new changes mean these platforms can be found liable if they keep up content that infringes copyright. As these platforms are available to users worldwide, having a territorial block option for countries with different copyright laws makes sense.

For now, the EU’s changes are only set to affect large commercial platforms like Facebook and Google. Small businesses will be exempt from the new copyright laws if they earn less than 10 million euros annually, or are under three years old. 

And, fear not: under the new EU copyright directive, other people’s images can still be uploaded if they are part of parodies, criticism, cartoons, review or citation. So memes should be okay for now!

How Will Facebook’s Changes Affect You?

If you’re a business wanting to protect your images from unauthorised use, you might soon be able to utilise Facebook’s ‘Rights Manager’ to upload your images first so you can be alerted if they are used elsewhere without your permission. This will be particularly useful if you’re a photographer or if you run any type of business where protecting images is important.

As mentioned above, anyone who uses Facebook already has a responsibility to ensure that the images they upload are owned by the publisher, or that permission has been given to upload such images. So, if your business uploads images taken by another without their consent, you could still be breaching someone else’s intellectual property rights. 

As a general rule, if you’re an individual uploading or sharing content, you should always check you have the content owner’s permission to publish it. 

Plus, if you operate an online marketplace or a website where users can upload content, Facebook’s new changes should prompt you to think about how you deal with images on your site. 

In these cases, it’s really important to have strong terms and conditions in place to make the uploader aware that they need to seek permission and take responsibility for images they publish. If your site doesn’t have these T&Cs, your business could be liable. 

In the past, we’ve spoken to online marketplace clients who got into disputes because a professional photographer or other business realised their images were being used without permission by users on the marketplace. And the online marketplace owners weren’t even aware of this! Having a watertight set of T&Cs from the outset can protect you from these headaches. 

The Takeaway

Just as Facebook has terms and conditions for intellectual property to protect itself, so should your business on its website. 

Infringement of intellectual property can easily happen by accident, or in a way that is out of your control if others can use your website. 
For a free chat about what terms and conditions would best suit your business, give us a call on 1800 730 617 or email us at team@sprintlaw.com.au.

About Sprintlaw

Sprintlaw is a new type of law firm that operates completely online and on a fixed-fee basis. We’re on a mission to make quality legal services faster, simpler and more affordable for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

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