Who owns the intellectual property that is put on social networks? Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as saying that the person who created the IP owns it. Two things come into play. First, before the IP is put onto the social network, the owner of the IP must be determined. Second, once the IP is placed onto a social network, it must be determined if the site has any rights to the IP.
So who owns the IP to begin with? Many people think because they create something, they own it. For instance, a graphic artist may think because he created a logo that he owns the logo. However, he may not. There may be a clause in the contract he has with his client giving ownership to his client. It could also be that the work would be considered a work for hire, again, with the client owning it if the contract doesn’t specify. However, it could also be the graphic artist owns it if the contract states so or if the work does not fall under the work for hire doctrine. In addition, there is also a question if the person that originally owns it has given any rights to the IP to someone else. For instance, in the case of an author, did the author give a publisher the rights to the book in return for publishing it? It is only once one establishes who owns the IP prior to someone placing it on a social network that someone can start to establish who has rights to it after it is placed on the site.
So how does one go about figuring out who has rights to the IP after it is placed on a social network? The answer usually lies in the website’s terms of service. To determine if the owner of the IP has given any rights in the IP to the social media site just by placing it on the site, a careful reading of the site’s TOS both at the time it was placed on there and any updates or changes in the TOS since then is necessary. By just placing IP on some websites, users give a license to the website to use their IP for various things and for various amounts of time. A TOS may say that a user gives a limited use in the IP to the site. For instance, the TOS may say the site can use the IP in any way it wants why the IP is on the site, including in advertisements. A TOS may also give an unlimited use license in the IP once it is placed on the site. This would mean that the site could use it for any reason even after the user removes it.
So the short answer is to who owns the IP on a social network is, as lawyers like to say, it depends. To figure out who owns it, it is important to find out who owned the IP first and then to look at what the TOS states.