Do You Have Rights in Social Media?

Have you seen this photo?

Here's another Photo of the shuttle from my plane.  on Twitpic

Photo shared by @Stefmara

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. On Monday, Stefanie Gordon snapped the pic while flying on Delta from NYC to Palm Beach, and when she landed she posted the picture to Twitter. The result? As of the time of writing this post, this TwitPic has viewed more than 450,000 views, and Stefanie has quadrupled her Twitter followers.

The (well documented) problem is that Stefanie’s pic was picked up by MSM. Despite the promises to credit her with the picture, they didn’t. Big surprise.

I don’t want to get into the legal analysis of the use of this picture. Our laws and contracts that govern these uses are a reflection of the culture at the particular time. My question is what time are we in? This issue is occurring at the intersection of two paradigms: mainstream media and social media revolution.

In one time, images or user generated content have rights and are compensatory, and in the other they are free, sharable, and the rights function on the honor system.

The value of the content in the mainstream media paradigm has traditionally been increased by scarcity. Networks invest heavily to have an exclusive story, which increases the audience for the network. Increased share of the audience translates into increased advertising revenue.

The value of the content in social media is increased by ubiquity. When a user creates interesting “share-worthy” content, they are “compensated” by their networks with shares, likes, retweets, comments. This economy of generosity catapults unknown people onto a connected stage. For example, Antoine Dodson was propelled into national spotlight with more than 80 million views thanks to the Gregory brothers, and the bed intruder song instantly became a meme with hundreds of variations (including my favorite).

Like two ships passing in the night, MSM and social have incompatible values. Language of copyright, compensation, ownership are not the tender in the world of social. Regardless of the compensation or “legally compliant use,” attribution and conversation is the standard of currency in this economy. The beauty of this paradigm, however, is that means by the one-to-many MSM to circumvent attribution leads to many-to-many conversation through blogging, tweeting, and communicating with friends.

Jeremy Floyd

Jeremy Floyd is the President at FUNYL Commerce. Formerly, he was the CEO and President of Lirio, Bluegill Creative, a marketing and communications firm in Knoxville, Tennessee. In addition to managing the digital strategies, Floyd was an adjunct professor for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga MBA program teaching digital strategies and social media. Floyd blogs at and tweets under the name @jfloyd. Jeremy is licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee and holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from MTSU in English and Philosophy.

  • I don’t know your legalese, but it’s just the decent thing to do to give someone proper credit for any work they have done. I am glad you posted the link since the picture didn’t come up on your blog for some reason. So cool.

  • @Alice

    Not sure what was happening with the picture. It seems to be working now.

    Have you seen the Bed Intruder song before?

  • No, there are no rights. The system is broken, the ethics are broken, the economics are broken. There is a pervasive entitlement mentality of “free” that is warped. I’ve written extensively about this. Long story short, right now, the world sucks ofr a content provider trying to make a buck, including art, music, software and blogs of course!

  • @Mark – I’m glad that you raised the issue as a published author and creator of content that is compensated for your intellectual property. Over the last 15 years, it seems that there is an entitlement to content unless you are the producer of content and have a financial stake in the production of it.

    So in the digital arena, you see blog posts scraped in their entirety, pictures used without permission, and songs shared without permission. But what was so interesting about this particular case to me was that MSM who will file a copyright claim within minutes of YouTube content being used without authorization, was so quick to exploit a loophole within the terms of use of social media.

    An additional point for me is that over the last 15 years I have come to expect less about the preservation of rights to my intellectual property–although that is probably not a good thing. When I submit a picture to Instagram, I have no expectation of accreditation although that would be nice.