Inside the strange — and surprisingly successful — fight for social media rights

A number of social media squabbles show the fight for social media rights may not be straightforward, but it will be strange -- and maybe even successful.


June 27, 2019

Online social media platforms — and the maelstrom of memes swirling across them — influence the real world more than ever before.

But, as Facebook fakers sway elections, celebrities with itchy Twitter fingers move markets, and comment-thread crusaders crush careers, some people are starting to ask: Who’s in charge here?

The answer isn’t always clear. 

But, people are beginning to fight for their social media rights — and those battles have been as strange as they’ve been successful. 

Here are some of the most bizarre battles sharpening the blurry boundaries of social media sovereignty:

Cartoonists vs. political parties

Comic cartoonist KC Green — the illustrator behind the viral “This is Fine Dog” meme — has successfully fought everyone from the Republican Party (who posted his Dog on Twitter in 2016) to The Daily Show (which posted the dog in 2018) for control of his intellectual property.

After 6 years of fighting, Green built a way to make money off the meme he made — avoiding the trap that other cartoonists (like Pepe the Frog’s creator Matt Furie) fell into when they lost control of their art online.

Models vs. paparazzi 

Model Gigi Hadid — who’s being sued for posting a paparazzo’s pic on her Instagram — is fighting for the right to post the copyright-protected picture on the basis that she “contributed” to it — by posing. 

Lawyers believe Hadid’s defense is flimsy, suggesting Instagram’s balance of power will rest with photographers, not their subjects.

Inmates vs. news publishers 

A judge ruled that Australian juvenile detainee Dylan Voller has the right to sue media companies for allowing readers to make defamatory — and untrue — comments about him on stories they posted on Facebook.

The ruling is a step in the direction of making media companies responsible not just for producing accurate stories — but also for moderating their comments. 

So what does it all mean?

These battles hinge on one question: How much control will creators — cartoonists, photographers, or news outlets — have over their social content?

Together, these episodes suggest creators are gaining more control: Cartoonists are finding ways to cash in on their intellectual property and photographers are protecting their copyrights.

But, by gaining more control over their content, they’re also assuming more responsibility for it: News outlets sharing content on social media may be on the hook for all of it — including the cantankerous comments.

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