This piece originally featured in issue 3 of Digital Parenting magazine.


You might be surprised...

Clicking the ‘Yes’ button to indicate that you have read and agreed to a social media channel’s terms of use is, for most of us, often not quite true. The length and breadth of the legal speak involved sets us up for failure – Facebook’s terms of service and data use, for example, runs to more than 15,000 words. But when you or your kids are posting your entire life online, from important events to precious family photos, it’s advisable to have an idea of exactly who on the internet owns your content. If you create it, you own it until you say otherwise.

Under copyright law, from the moment you ‘fix’ your original creative work in a ‘tangible medium’, you own the rights to it. Typing a blog post on your laptop or taking a picture with your smartphone counts. So, content that you create and then post to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube or anywhere else is still yours. By posting it online you or your children have made it easier for people to infringe your rights by copying your content, but you haven’t given up those rights.

But that’s not the whole story

When you sign up for sites such as Facebook or Twitter, you grant the company a ‘non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license’ to use any of your photos, words or videos. This means they can use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute your content in any way, without notifying, crediting or paying you. For example, a photo you post on Twitter remains your intellectual property, but you give Twitter the authority to do just about anything with the image. This caused a brouhaha with Instagram last year when the company amended its terms so that it owned the right to use members’ photos in advertising campaigns. Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, a campaign group for users’ rights online, says many of these terms are confusing: “People haven’t really understood what they’ve entered into. Often, companies will over-egg what they need, and it’s a land grab for users’ rights and content.”

Is it worth it?

Social network users can express their thoughts and feelings online and keep in touch with friends and family near and far. They can showcase work and give ideas a global audience that once seemed impossible to achieve. And they can also make new friends all over the world in colourful and entertaining ways. But be aware of what you or your kids are signing yourself up for when you post on social networks, and don’t let the somewhat universal terms of service put you off using them.

How to control your content and help your kids control theirs

On Facebook... Limit posts to be seen by ‘friends’ and not ‘public’.

On Twitter... If your teen has a Twitter account, click ‘Protect My Tweets’ so only approved users can see them. On YouTube... Make your videos private by selecting ‘Edit Video’, then adjust the ‘Broadcast and Sharing Options’. If your teen has an account, you can make it ‘Unlisted’ so only people with a direct web address can find his or her videos.

On Instagram... In the ‘Edit Your Profile’ section, scroll down and change the ‘Posts Are Private’ feature to ‘on’ to make it less likely that your photos will be reposted elsewhere.


This article is by Parent Zone, the experts in digital family life.