Caught in a web of social media

Who owns your posts?

without comments

Thanks to @paulseys for drawing my attention to a recent US article on who owns your online material.  It’s a subject that I have occasionally talked about but have not yet been brave enough to commit my thoughts to text.  Cowardice on my part but there you go!
The reason is that there is a legal answer and a real world answer and I am am not convinced that the two align very well.
Many employment contracts would suggest that the employer owns all intellectual property rights created by their employees.  It was a standard clause in contracts that was much more relevant to days of yore when employees were not creating lots of content online in their own time.  It made sense back then. 
Now, of course, we are all churning out material like the proverbial infinite number of monkeys and we must be close to something resembling Shakespeare.
But the old rules still apply – and the chances are that your employer owns that material.
However, and this is the first reality check, what employer in the right minds is going to want the copyright to my tweets?  Although, you can’t deny the inherent genius one of my recent offerings:
Let’s get back to some real twitter stuff! There are more Greggs bakeries in the UK than McDonald’s – 1,400 vs 1,200. :o ) #fact
And here’s the bigger reality check, does any employer really want the potential relationship and reputation harm of trying to take material created by a former employee?  As one friend of mine (who does not work at the same firm as me) put it, ‘Let them try it.  I get social media and they’ll regret trying to take over any of my stuff’.
Of course, it also depends on who the creator of the piece is.  If, for sake of argument, the writer is a lawyer and is writing in his capacity as a lawyer on lawyer time, his lawyer employer is going to want to keep the copyright.  Seems fair enough.  But again, do they really want it?  I have written a number of articles as a lawyer for my lawyerly employers in former firms and they now have my name attached to articles that I wrote when I was there… but I’ve left!  Does that help them?  I’m not sure it does.
Now I write on here in my own capacity in my own time.  I’m certainly not giving legal advice here – it’s more a statement of my experience of dealing with businesses.  Would my employers want this material?  I don’t know.  They may want something a little more ‘lawyerly’ to put out in the firm’s name and that would be great.
These days, we build our own personal brand and we create our own material.  For some, the ‘package’ that they as people represent is probably better thought of as ‘on loan’ to whoever they are working for at the time.  While the legal reality is probably very different, in many ways enforcing it would create such a storm, you may be ill advised to try it.
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Written by Socialholic

November 4th, 2009 at 9:10 am