The Spiral Staircase: Copyrights and Social Media

Dushyant K Mahant
New Update
The Spiral Staircase: Copyrights and Social Media

With the advent of multiple platforms to express ourselves online, we are, as a matter of practice, supplying more information to our readers than required.

How are many of us are actually able to supply relevant information is another story altogether.

Today, a search engine is able to perform amazing tasks. I come across many instances where a photographer alleges, and rightly so, that a prominent publication has used his/her pic without consent. What's worse is that despite letters from many such photographers, some of these publications do not credit them.

Understanding how it happens

Let us examine a scenario: for a blog-post, a user does some research  and finds some images online. However, this researcher did not do the research about the source of the images. Result:  the blog post has attracted readers and also the owner of the image who threatens a copyright action. Many such situations occur very frequently.

publive-imageWhat  the majority of people do not understand is pasting images and / or content from available web pages does not augment the post but invites attention from the owner of the copyright of the material. It gets embarrassing, apart from  making the writer liable to be prosecuted for copyright infringement, should the owner decide to take legal action.

The laws of copyright, unlike patent laws, are universally applicable. For instance, someone living abroad can allege and complain about copyright infringement on the content pasted by someone living in Prabhadevi, Mumbai.

What is online is not always free 

The most important aspect about social media is that the content which is available is not always free to use since it may not  be in the public domain. The basic fallacy, behind the free-for-all usage of the content available online is that the user somehow believes that if the stuff is online, it is in public domain and can be used by all.

Whatever is available online is not  necessarily in the public domain. The copyright has to be owned by someone or the other. For instance, a term of copyright ownership for a image in India is provided under Section 25 of the Copyright Act, 1957 and is as follows:

In the case of a photograph, copyright shall subsist until sixty years from the beginning of the calendar year next following the year in which the photograph is published.


By and large, what should be understood is all the images which are available online have to have a subsisting copyright. Similar position would be of the content available online which might be someone's thesis, a lecture by an academician etc. Using such material without checking the source, just because it is available online, is wrong. The material is available because the user consented to put it online. Mere access to a material should not be misconstrued as automatically eligible for one's use.

Content in Social Media

One aspect solely in relation to twitter is our updates, also known as tweets. Though twitter has a mechanism about forwarding / retweeting a tweet, called RT, many a times, some users simply copy and paste others' tweets and pass them off as their own. This act  constitutes as copyright infringement. The short length of a tweet does not disqualify it from being an original literary effort for the purposes of the Copyright Act. It is advisable that a tweet is simply forwarded by the mechanism provided by Twitter rather than passed off as one's own.

I personally have put on notice people twice for blatantly passing my tweets as their own.

Facebook has a plethora of photographs, probably millions of them. Imagine someone's reaction if a picture taken by them with great effort is now being passed off as someone else's.

Myth Busted: IP actions usually culminate faster

Such situations are frustrating and actionable. However, most people do not take any action thinking it might entail large amounts of both time and money. Fact is, these actions do not cost a whole lot and IP actions usually culminate faster compared to routine civil criminal actions. I hope more and more people take action and protect their IP because on social media, there is more possibility of it getting stolen.

Because, for some people, the rule of thumb is: No time to waste, just cut and paste.

If you have any questions related to legal matters on social media, feel free to ask them in the comments section, I will collate them and answer them in my next post.

Pic Courtesy : Marfis75 and amidanyorai

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