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Forfeiting copyright via Facebook

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A recent Nielsen study found that Australian internet users spend more of their time online visiting social-networking sites and blogs than users in nine other countries, including the United States and Britain (State of the Media: The Social Media Report). And like any good guest, when we visit, we interact and share: creating profiles, ''liking'', ''tweeting'', ''poking'', commenting on, posting and uploading content at an ever-increasing rate.

Several high-publicity court cases have resulted in an increased awareness among the general public of the risks of infringing copyright by downloading material (such as music and films) from the internet. However, the intellectual property issues associated with uploading content onto social-media sites such as Facebook are often ignored or misunderstood. These issues give rise to risks not just for the internet user, but also for their employer, where internet use occurs during their employment.

What is copyright?

Put simply, copyright is a bundle of rights that the law recognises in certain subject matter. Written works (such as articles, reports and books), photographs, films, sound recordings, sculptures and paintings are all examples of subject matter in which copyright can subsist. Once the subject matter is created, copyright applies automatically and without the need for the owner to take any steps to claim ownership.

If copyright subsists in particular subject matter, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to prevent others from undertaking certain activities, including copying, publishing and adapting the subject matter and allowing others to do so. Allowing others to do so is known as ''licensing''. A ''licence'' simply means a ''permission''.

Often, the person who created the subject matter will own the copyright, subject to certain exceptions. These include that:

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