“You hereby grant to Instagram/Facebook a non-exclusive, fully paid, and royalty-free, worldwide, unlimited license to use…”
Wauw, yeah, that already looks like quite a mouthful. You (and many other people on the internet) might think that means all users on Facebook or Instagram have free reign to do whatever they please with the content that is posted there. Here is the thing: no, they don’t.
What you really agree to is that the platform itself (read: the owners of the platform) can use your content. That means that if Instagram, for example, wants to make an advertisement where a user scrolls through their feed and one of the posts on that feed happens to be your content, you have technically given them permission to use it through the terms and conditions.
Should you be panicking right about now?
The short and inaccurate answer is ‘not at all’. The longer and more accurate answer is… look, legal jargon can get really dry and really boring, really quickly; that is why you have people like CatchScan to worry about that stuff for you! But with that in mind, the truer answer to whether or not you should be concerned about terms and conditions is: Probably not. See, there is a legal principle that agreements have to be fair. “Fair”, in this context, is a legal term but to make a long (and dry) story short: It is not “fair” that a platform owns all of your online work by getting you to agree to terms and conditions you can’t be expected to read and much less understand.
What does that mean for content creators? Simply put: if Instagram and Facebook start really abusing their “non-exclusive, fully paid, and royalty-free, worldwide, unlimited license” they probably wouldn’t be able to back it up in court. Probably. See, before someone goes through the trouble of hashing the legality of terms and conditions out in a courtroom, no one actually knows for sure. In the meantime, the chance that Facebook and Instagram would risk a lawsuit by abusing their license is pretty tiny. In conclusion, you most likely don’t have anything to worry about. That is… unless you posted your content on Pinterest?
Pinterest is its own beast
Okay, so Pinterest has a unique terms of service agreement. People who upload their content to Pinterest don’t just give the platform the rights to the images, but they also give all of the users that right. That means that if you have uploaded your content to Pinterest, you have actually signed away the license to your copyright of the content through the terms and conditions.
But are you also out of luck if someone else uploads your content to Pinterest?
Luckily, no. Other people can’t give away the license of a copyright on things they don’t own the copyright to in the first place. If someone else uploads your work to Pinterest and a bunch of users start using it, not only is the original poster who stole your content infringing on your copyright, but the Pinterest users who used your content are also, legally speaking, on the hook. They may not have known they were violating a copyright, but ignorance does not protect anyone from the law.
So what does all that mean?
Terms and conditions aren’t as scary as you might think they are. Pinterest is a little dangerous if you want to keep your copyright but, otherwise, laws are in place to make sure you can keep ownership of the content you create. We have gone through the biggest platforms in this article, but it is worth noting that these do vary from platform to platform and over time (this has been written to be up to date 14/07/2021).
If you want to read (or perhaps re-read) terms and conditions, here are the links to those of the most popular platforms:
LinkedIn – Paragraph 3
Reddit – Paragraph 4
Tumblr – Paragraph 6
Snapchat – Paragraph 3
TikTok – Paragraph 7 “User generated content”
Flickr – Paragraph 6