Content ownership on Facebook: Three rules for brands

In this guest post, blogger and digital creative Laura McWhinnie shares her frustration at Facebook page administrators who steal other people’s content

What started out as an annoyance was now bordering on anger. I read the message again. “Just so you know, any picture uploaded on Facebook gives us the right to have a non-exclusive royalty-free license for it and everybody can use it.”

A few hours before, a friend had come across an image that I had created specifically for my blog’s Facebook branding being used on a blog and their Facebook brand page. I sent them a pretty standard message explaining that I own the creative and that they needed to remove it.

always summer

Reproduced with permission

They responded immediately. “We found this image on Pinterest and just love the line, and we post everything we like.” No kidding you like it – I like it too, that’s why it’s my tagline and why I’ve paid thousands of dollars to trademark it. I kindly explained that just because they like it, doesn’t mean they have the right to use it as if it were their own.

I asked them once again to remove the image and expected that to be that.

Then came the message that tipped me over the edge – that they weren’t going to remove it because they believed they had the right to use any picture uploaded to Facebook or Pinterest.

To make matters worse, they ended their justification with, “Maybe just be happy that people like what you are doing instead of being so angry. It will make life much easier! Live love life.” and littered the message with red love hearts. I wasn’t angry before, but I certainly was now.

In Facebook’s terms of service (Statement of Rights and Responsibilities), under the ‘Protecting Other People’s Rights’ section, the first rule is clear, “You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.”

I get that not everyone is an expert on social media ethics, and I get that people are not necessarily setting out to intentionally break Facebook’s copyright infringement laws. But as an administrator of a brand page, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, it’s your responsibility to act ethically – not just on Facebook, but across the internet as a whole.

The fact that this blog wanted to argue with me about the ownership of something I had created from scratch left me dumbfounded. I came up with the tagline, paid to have it trademarked, ran into the middle of a road in LA to get the shot, and hired a creative to design the lock-up.

The arrogance of these people was frightening and got me thinking. How many other brands and online publications don’t understand content ownership?

If you’re a digital native and have a general understanding of what’s right and wrong, most of this will come second nature. But surprisingly, not many brands stick to these three simple rules on Facebook:

 1. Seek permission before posting photos that aren’t your own.

If you don’t have permission to post a photo, don’t use it. Facebook has a strict intellectual property policy that can result in the permanent removal of Facebook pages. Last year, popular pop-culture website The Cool Hunter found this out the hard way. After repeatedly infringing the rights of others by using images they did not own or have permission to use, Facebook disabled their page along with all of its content and their 788,000 fans.

While it’s argued that Facebook appears to have a dysfunctional copyright infringement claims system, they take the rights of content owners seriously and aim to protect their intellectual property. If you want to post a third party’s content direct to your brand’s wall, seek permission first. If you’re showing it in a positive light and crediting them properly, they’ll most likely welcome the exposure. It’s also a good way to get your brand known by other content creators.

 2. Credit people and other brands properly.

If you’re administrating your business’ page yourself, it’s your responsibility to understand the basic functionality of Facebook. Hashtags are for Twitter; so don’t even think about using them on Facebook to integrate usernames. If you’re crediting someone or another brand on Facebook (who are also on Facebook), don’t just type their name out without linking to their page. Not only does it show you don’t understand the platform, you are potentially damaging relationships.

3. Don’t copy posts off other brand pages.

But it came off the internet – that makes it fair game right? Wrong. Just because they didn’t create the content from scratch, doesn’t mean you should post it. They found it, credited its original origin through either a link or acknowledgement, and wrote a compelling post around it – they may have even purchased the image they’re using. If you think the same post could work on your own brand page, share it from theirs – don’t repost it as if it were your own.

Plus, if you’re in a similar market, there’s a good chance you share fans. Posting the same thing after them is not a good look and will affect your brand’s credibility. Sharing content on Facebook is also a great way to build strategic social partnerships with other likeminded brands, and can expose you to their audience of fans.

Laura McWhinnie is a digital creative at Mark, M&C Saatchi’s digital, direct and data business and runs her own blog This Island Life.


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