In other words, we’ve been trying to reduce panic (or, alternatively, foster it) for longer than some of you have been alive.
Rather than tackle each Ask and email separately, we’ll go through some of the more significant rumors, and invite any follow-up Asks at any time - but we also note that none of this is legal advice, and the copyright laws of your country will vary at least slightly from those in the US.
Will tumblr now own all the copyright in everything I post or add to a reblogged post?
No. Tumblr has (always? If not always then at least for the last three years) held a license to host, share, distribute and do certain other things with any content you post. Tumblr could not exist if it didn’t hold those licenses. Tumblr exists so people can reblog and share content!
You - yes you - own the copyright to any original work you post on tumblr (photos, poems, songs) also many if not all of the original elements in your fanworks. You own those rights pretty much as soon as you create those works. You hold all the copyright - and Tumblr needs you to license some of those rights to them so they can show your content to the world. They make copies by backing up the site on backup servers; they distribute copies by allowing others to see what you’ve posted, and then others make copies by reblogging what you’ve posted.
If you don’t want people to reblog what you’ve posted, don’t post it on tumblr. If you do want people to reblog what you’ve posted, they need a license to do so. To put it simply, the Tumblr ToU contains those licenses. It contains them now and it will continue to do so.
Why did the Community Guidelines change from “authorized” to “allowed” re posting things copyrighted by other people?
We hope it’s because Tumblr loves fanworks and realizes their importance on the site and to its users.
If something is authorized, then you’ve been given explicit or implicit permission to do it. If something is allowed, then that might be the case - or the law might allow you to do it. In other words, I’m not authorized by JK Rowling or any of her designees to write Harry Potter fanfic; they haven’t given me explicit permission. I am, however, allowed by US copyright law to write Harry Potter fanfic for a number of reasons (transformative works, fair use, laches). Tumblr is now saying that if I am allowed to post something, even if I am not authorized to post it, their Community Guidelines say it’s fine.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THIS, FYEAHCOPYRIGHT?
This isn’t true, and it isn’t true because they aren’t saying they own your copyright (and as we explain below, little-to-no uncopyrighted work is posted to tumblr). They are not saying they own any of the content you post. They, in fact, explicitly say they do not own any of the content you post.
At line 140 in Section 6 of the ToU, it says this:
Subscribers retain ownership and/or other applicable rights in Subscriber Content.
That means that subscribers retain whatever rights they have when they put something on Tumblr.
Subscriber Content is defined in the Agreement as Subscriber-submitted/transferred/provided “video, audio, photographs, images, illustrations, animations, logos, tools, written posts, replies, comments, information, data, text, software, scripts, executable files, graphics, Themes and interactive features.”
In other words, you submit/transfer/provide, you still own what you already owned (ie the text on a pic of Doge, your poetry and songs and fanfic and the photo of the hot Butterbeer you had for breakfast yesterday).
How true is this?
Copyright (in the US, where tumblr and Yahoo are located) attaches to a work - a photo, note, story, poem, song, video - as soon as that work is “fixed” - such as when it’s written on paper, printed out or saved to a hard drive, the cloud or a USB stick - or when it’s posted on a website. And it vests in the creator, unless that creator assigns the copyright away. A license is not the same as an assignment - it means you’re giving someone else some rights, but not all of them.
WHY does tumblr keep a license to my stuff after I delete my blog and go away?!?
Because someone else may have reblogged it in the meantime. That’s how tumblr works, and why it’s different from sites like MySpace, or how LiveJournal used to be. If someone reblogs your content while your account is live, they have a copy of it - sometimes with their comments on the post or in tags - and to use tumblr the way it was created to be used, the way it has been used for years, they need to be able to hold on to a license to keep using content you submitted to tumblr.
If you don’t want tumblr users to reblog your stuff or even host it after you leave or delete it, host it offsite and link to it or embed it. Then you keep more control over the content itself.
But what about commercialization! I don’t want anyone commercializing my stuff!
Given how tumblr exists, you can’t stop other tumblr users from reblogging your stuff on tumblr, or linking to it from other sites.
There are commercial sites with accounts on tumblr. Tumblr and Yahoo are for-profit companies. Tumblr and Yahoo have been profiting off of user-posted/submitted content since said content was first submitted.
That’s how the sites work, and why they exist.
But even if you are ok with Tumblr and Yahoo making money off of your content, what about other sites - those “third parties”? They could be anyone! You might not like them!
True. But as long as they are on tumblr, they can reblog your posts, images, videos, stories, etc - and they can put ads on them, or link back to their site which has ads, or put a link that gets them more followers, etc.
If you’re not comfortable with the theoretical possibility of that happening with your content, don’t use Tumblr. That’s your decision.
But it’s been an aspect of Tumblr’s platform for years, so please don’t freak out that it’s some sort of new and weird and evil sudden action.
What is Poor Man’s Copyright and should I do it with all my stuff right now so tumblr something-something?
Kudos and thanks to basilintime for a fantastic summary of the changes with much less tl;dr than our post.
As of now the panic-generating images posted by psychfacts’ tumblr have almost 60,000 Notes - a bunch of them explain the ToU and contradict the panic, but please reblog this so our (admittedly tl;dr) analysis can be out there.
ETA re Psychfacts: We don’t know if they’re trying a social experiment on tumblr users, or if they just think it’s funny to post lies and see how many reblogs they get.
We do know this: Many if not all of the “scientific” terms mentioned in the images on psychfacts’ posts are fake. "Hexodermic radiation"? "Kemblen cycle"? "Sutoamephrine"? NONE of it exists.
It is possible that Psychfacts is experimenting on tumblr users to see how many reblogs they can get for made-up content that’s scary, in contrast to how many reblogs they can get for made-up content that’s soothing or cheerful. If that’s their intention, then they’ve managed over 60,000 reblogs for the scary versus an average close to twenty for things that are not.
It’s possible they’re making stuff up for some other reason. We have no idea. But they are not honest in their posts, and they are deceptive in their post re the tumblr ToU.