A Penny for Their Creations - Apprising Users' Value of Copyrights in Their Social Media Content

Uri Y. Hacohen, Talia Schwartz-Maor, Amit Elazari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Every day, 3.5 billion social media users—among them musicians, visual artists, writers,
designers, and other creators—routinely upload their creative work to social media, thereby
subjecting their copyrights in those works to a laundry list of draconian demands. Although
users usually retain ownership rights in their uploaded content according to most platforms’
terms of service agreements, they often grant platforms unbridled license to their work that
goes way beyond what is reasonably needed to operate the platform. Most licenses, for
example, allow platforms to modify and commercialize their users’ content and create
derivative works from that content. Some licenses require users to waive claims for attribution
to their works or compensation for ideas they submitted to the platforms. Finally, nearly all
licenses are defined to be irrevocable (users cannot terminate them), perpetual (they last
indefinitely even if the user deletes their account), and sublicensable (platforms have full
discretion to extend them to third parties). Do users appreciate the breadth of the licensing
agreements they grant social media platforms for original content? Would they understand
them if they were to read them? Most importantly, do users care? Would they change their
social media “sharing” habits or stop using a social media platform if they had more
information? This final question, which focuses on the salience of user-generated content
licensing terms to users—defined by the degree to which terms are sufficiently prominent in
users’ awareness to impact decision making—has become one of the primary benchmarks for
evaluating the need for regulatory intervention in mass-market contracting. These inquiries are
fundamental to the information age, when user-generated content—much of which is
copyright protected—shapes culture, discourse, and communities. Nevertheless, these
questions have remained surprisingly unanswered. This Article fills these gaps. It presents the
results of the first comprehensive large-sample empirical study on user-generated content
licensing and user attitude towards those policies. Specifically, the study investigates user
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-616
Number of pages106
JournalBerkeley Technology Law Journal
StatePublished - 2021


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