Demystifying Terms of Service Agreements: What Are My Digital Rights?

Demystifying Terms of Service Agreements: What Are My Digital Rights?

It’s a question so predictable it’s become rhetorical in nature – did you read the entire sprawling 5000-word Terms of Service agreement you agreed to the last time you downloaded an app? With our clients drowning in self-doubt about the process, our OXO Digital Organizing team’s need to help Central Florida navigate the virtual maze of winding Terms of Service agreements has led us to professional organizer and APPO member Caroline Gunter’s guide on our digital rights.

Join us below for an in-depth look on who and where our digital rights go – and what, if anything, you can do about it.


What Are My Digital Rights?

According to Caroline and sources like Techopedia, digital rights are the copyright rules that govern a piece of digital work, including our documents, films, music, and photos, both on technological devices and online networks. In other words, anything that can be posted or saved using your phone, tablet, computer, or social media platforms like Pinterest and Facebook are subject to digital rights governance. In 1996, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which protects unauthorized duplication or posting to websites of original content, put these rules into motion.

Regardless of the act’s provisions, however, when you sign a Terms of Service agreement, you may not retain the rights to the picture, including the ability to repost, post to another site, or to save for your own use. Even though digital rights seem similar to traditional copyrights, which hold clout offline, some digital agreements supersede the usual rules of thumb.

Unsure if you own the picture that you want to post or share on Instagram or Twitter? Check the government’s copyright information site to be sure. For further, more detailed information about copyrights and just what you can share online, also check out Stanford’s Fair/Use site.

Understanding Terms of Service Agreements


Which digital images do you have the right to?

Caroline asks us to into consideration many popular websites destinations such as our hometown hero, Disney, in addition to other giants like Amazon, Flickr, Yahoo, and of course, Google. In reading quotations from their Terms of Service Agreements, one must wonder just what they own. If your family picture is taken at Disney, who has the right to distribute it?

In this case, understand that those who are hired to take visitors’ pictures are likely under a “work-for-hire” basis. Here’s the kicker: If the photographer isn’t the one who owns the photo, but Disney does, they have a section in their Terms of Service that creates a conundrum for well-meaning attendees:

“We do not claim ownership to your User Generated Content; however, you grant us a non-exclusive, sub-licensable, irrevocable and royalty-free worldwide license under all copyrights, trademarks, patents, trade secrets, privacy and publicity rights and other intellectual property rights… Quoted From The Walt Disney Company Terms of Use

This company’s Terms of Use goes on to say that they can and will use your images and photopasses for their own marketing use.

Online Posting & Cloud Sharing

Now that you know how tricky these terms can be, let’s join Caroline in looking more into depth at Google and Amazon, where you can buy, sell, and post items or ideas. The question is: How safe are you posting and maintaining your copyrights for the two services?

“All content included in or made available through any Amazon Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, data compilations, and software is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws. The compilation of all content included in or made available through any Amazon Service is the exclusive property of Amazon and protected by U.S. and international copyright laws.

Quoted from Amazon’s Terms of Use

It’s evident that anything on their site, whether published by them or anyone else, is under their control. Like Disney, they can use your information for anything they want to.

“Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

Quoted from Google Terms and Services

Compared to Amazon, Google lets you keep all of the privileges of your copyright. Anything you write or photograph and post to store or email remains yours. Put simply, if you’re the original owner of the content, you stay the original owner. Finally, a statement we can live with. How about our social media accounts?

Social Media Content Rights

According to the Huffington Post, it would take the average person 76 work days to fully read all of the Terms and Conditions for all of the sites they join. Their article shows pictures of some of Facebook’s Terms and Conditions. Reading through can be frightening for your personal security because they reserve the right to do anything they want with the information you post online. This means that if they have the rights to your profile and your photos, they also have the rights to sell the information to companies to target advertisements to try to get you to buy their products.

Through every site you could possibly join, there are plenty of options to take, including the choice to refuse to sign. Just be sure that next Terms of Service agreement you engage in, you’re aware of what you’re getting into.

For more information about your digital life and important considerations for the entire family, read our guides on Preparing for the Worst: A Millennial’s Digital Legacy and the implications of the Digital Afterlife.


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