Social media platforms enable users to profit from their brand and original works such as photos, videos, articles and various “mash ups”. Their brand and content may be protected by trademarks and copyrights and users may generate thousands of postings to build an extensive intellectual property portfolio. A user may develop a popular brand for their curated content across multiple platforms such as web, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, with their creative posts generating significant goodwill and revenue. Companies pay popular users to reach target audiences instantaneously and effectively with authentic content of pictures, videos, blogs and other derivative works. This is big business and creating online content is a full time job for many users, where a single post may generate thousands of dollars in revenue for the user.

Chiara Ferragni created the, a popular online brand creating fashion related content such as photos and videos of Chiara wearing various designers. Her Instagram profile (@theblondesalad) has approximately 5 million followers and counting. She leverages her large audience over aggregated platforms for product endorsements and advertising contracts. Her recorded profits are millions and her business model was reviewed in a case study for Harvard Business School.   (Keinan, Anat, Kristina Maslauskaite, Sandrine Crener, and Vincent Dessain. “The Blonde Salad.” Harvard Business School Case 515-074, January 2015.) Her creative empire has expanded to a successful shoe business.

Another example is Lilly Saini Singh, better known by her YouTube username Superwoman. Her comedy videos have received over 1 billion views and her channel has accumulated over 8 million subscribers, making her a “YouTube Millionaire”. From her online success, Singh gives live performances that sell-out stadiums around the globe.

These online brand identities upload their content to different social media platforms to faciliate access. Platform providers may use this content subject to their service terms and conditions. Controlling use of content is important to maintain brand identity. The terms may permit free use of the content by the platform provider and may also permit transfer of rights to other third parties. For example, the service terms may grant a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the content. There may also be a transfer of ownership by the services terms. Both content creators and platform providers should have a clear understanding of these service terms to understand permitted uses of the content and associated risks. See for example, our previous blog on Who Owns Your Instagram Content and sharing pictures on social media sites.