Media Law Handbook

Copyright Law


19. How is plagiarism different from copyright infringement?
17. What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

18. What are terms of service and how can they affect copyright law?

Terms of service are rules that users of services such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter agree to when they create accounts with those services. Users of news websites also often are required to agree to terms of service, which also are called user agreements. These terms of service generally are held by courts to be legally binding contracts, even if the person agreeing to the terms has not read the terms, which often is the case. The terms of service override the law that would apply otherwise.  For example, if you post your multi-media presentations on a website and require website users to agree to terms of service that say they forfeit all their fair use rights regarding your work, your copyright protection is stronger than the law generally allows.  Also, your website user’s fair use rights are diminished because they have signed away those rights.

Terms of service often include references to copyright and use of intellectual property. They often say that the sites can reuse content posted by users for purposes such as marketing and promotion. Terms of service may also limit how content posted on sites can be used elsewhere.

        Companies may change their terms of service at any time. The photo service Twitpic, for example, caused a controversy in 2011 when it revised its terms of service in a way that caused users to believe that Twitpic was claiming ownership of all photos posted there. In a blog post, the company’s founder, Noah Everett, assured users that was not the case. “To clarify our ToS regarding ownership, you the user retain all copyrights to your photos and videos; it’s your content. Our terms state by uploading content to Twitpic you allow us to distribute that content on and our affiliated partners.”[37]  Everett explained that the changes in the terms of service were intended to stop news organizations from using images posted on Twitpic without permission of the original copyright owners, Twitpic’s users.

Facebook has used its terms of service to threaten news organizations that republished images that were posted by Facebook users. In 2008, the website Gawker published photos taken from the Facebook account of a New York socialite. Facebook objected, saying that Gawker’s editor had violated the site’s terms of service and that the editor’s Facebook account would be terminated if he did so again.[38]

Read the terms of use on websites you use.  If you don’t like the terms, don’t agree to them and don’t use the site.



[37] Noah Everett, Your Content, Your Copyrights (May 10, 2011),

[38] Carolyn McCarthy, Facebook Threatens To Ban Gawker’s DentonCNet (Jan. 16, 2008),

19. How is plagiarism different from copyright infringement?
17. What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

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