New Social Media and the Copyright Status Quo
Microsoft brought the personal computer into our lives. Amazon made internet shopping a reality. Napster introduced new age music sharing and Apple changed the way we listened to music. Facebook revolutionized our social interaction. The common denominator for these companies… they interrupted the status quo and transformed the world. Now the newest social media darlings Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are drastically changing the landscape of image copyrights.
Image copyright law is very complicated and abstract. If you dare delve into the regulations you may sift through seas of information on trademarks, patents, copyrights, intellectual property, and still never really find the information you are looking for.
Creative Commons is an organization that tries to keep the bylaws straight and create an easy to understand system devoted to recognizing and protecting the rights of the creative works of artists, photographers, hobbyists, bloggers, etc. As opposed to a standard “all rights reserved” label, the Creative Commons system has 6 different kinds of licenses that detail exactly what another party can do with the work. The licenses specify among other things, whether the work can be used for personal or commercial purposes, if it can be tweaked or must remain unchanged and if the original creator must be credited.
However, no copyright is safe from the soaring popularity of Instagram and Tumblr. Visual content is at the epicenter of the new social media platforms, more specifically, sharing that content, albeit in different ways.
Instagram has a unique collaborative aspect where different users work together to edit pictures from their original state. Tumblrs create personal blogs filled with images, videos, links and GIFs, where users can reblog the posts they like. Many times posted images are blatantly stolen on both platforms. And in each instance, the original copyright becomes more irrelevant the more times a stolen image is shared.
This emphasis on sharing content coupled with today’s technology has created a sort of frenzy in the online world. Anything and everything is free game. Social media users are now desperately in pursuit of the funniest, the coolest, the most amazing things on the web, searching for validation by the number of shares they garner. Additionally, when something does become popular, scores of altered versions pop up trying to ride the coattails of the newest popular post. Sometimes posts can be shared hundreds of thousands to millions of times. Meaning the originator is but a mere afterthought in the entire system.
Nevertheless, this generation does not maliciously disregard copyrights, they just don’t see the big deal. Feel free to place the blame on Napster, the originator of free music sharing. What began as a revolution is now common practice. We see free content everywhere online from music artists and comedians, television shows to software. Still changing, society is placing even more value on free sharing and crowdsourcing. Values that Instagram and Tumblr embody.
In fact, fashion shows have been known to show live coverage of events by utilizing hashtags on Tumblr and many brands have begun using Instagram to crowdsource product ideas.
Society has been forever altered. As the world continues to see an increase in content sharing and working together, copyright law may become outdated. The law must evolve to deal with the current environment. We are seeing evidence of this in Finland as activists are aiming to get 50,000 backers for a citizen proposed bill calling for the country’s strict copyright laws to be rewritten.
Still, the fact remains that a number of works on the popular social media channels are infringing on copyrights by editing or building upon a work belonging to someone else. In today’s social world, the owner may choose to bask in the internet fame or seek legal action, but infringement will continue nonetheless. And as new social media platforms continue blurring the lines of creation and ownership, I am reminded of a quote made by famed artist, Pablo Picasso, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Seems fitting.
Nick Arata, 26, is a former professional baseball player turned entrepreneur. He founded BC Insta_tees, an online custom t-shirt design company that turns Instagram pictures into t-shirts. BC Insta_tees simplifies the design process with an intuitive Design Studio at www.bcinstatees.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bcinsta_tees.