Social Media, Copyright, and the Devil(s)

Aspen, CO Winterskol

Composite image of Winterskol torchlight parade and fireworks over Aspen Mountain.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on television. But I do pay attention to the latest trends in social media, especially as they relate to photography and copyright, as should anyone who attempts to make their living in the photo business.

Let’s first start with Facebook, and the perils of posting images on their website. For example, take the image above. I posted it on my Chris Council Photography Facebook page (not my personal profile – don’t even get me started on how confusing Facebook has become). I also shared it with a few select businesses in town and gave them permission to post it on their Facebook pages as well. It took all of about 2 hours before I received an email notification from Facebook that someone else had downloaded the photo and re-posted it on their personal page. In this case there was no malicious intent, and in fact the only reason I learned about the photo usage was because I was “tagged” in the photo (they tagged my personal profile, not my business page).

Right about now, you may be asking, “what’s your problem – isn’t the point of social media to share?” On one hand, you are absolutely correct, but social media and the ubiquitous use of images has created a monster, one that has the potential to destroy any value associated with your images unless you are extremely careful.

Take a look at the screenshots below of the metadata for the image above. The one on the left shows the original metadata, including the copyright info that I embed on all my photos on import. The right screenshot is of the exact same image, only this is after I’ve downloaded it from Facebook. Yes, it’s blank. FACEBOOK STRIPS ALL YOUR METADATA – INCLUDING COPYRIGHT INFO.

social media metadata

There are some things you can do to protect your images, and yourself. First, put a watermark on your images (like mine at the top of the post). This puts your name and copyright front and center on the image, and while it can always be cropped off, it is a good start. Secondly, upload only low-resolution images. I use 600 pixels max on the long edge at 80% jpeg quality. This will theoretically keep your image from being used in any commercial application. But as they like to preach in the south, abstinence is the only surefire method to protect yourself.

Terms of Service – the Devil is in the details
Here is the link to Facebook’s Terms of Service (TOS). Number two on the list:

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

Translation: although you retain copyright and ownership, they can sell your photos that you post using their service and keep all the money.

Facebook isn’t the only culprit is the social media world. Instagram recently faced a massive backlash over their change to their Terms of Service (TOS). Oh wait, nevermind, Facebook recently bought them for $1 billion. If you were living under a rock, Instagram changed their TOS to allow for the monetization of any photos posted on their site.

“Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

Translation: roughly the same as above. The public outcry was so bad regarding their TOS change that outlets like National Geographic said they would close their account. Instagram finally relented and is changing their TOS effective 1/19/13, but this battle isn’t over.

Ironically, since I started writing this post I received an email from NPPA on the court case involving a photographer and AFP and their use of his image that he posted on TwitPic, story here. The court found in favor of the photographer. Again, read the fine print, here are the current TOS for TwitPic.

“You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic. However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.”

Translation: roughly the same as above.

And here is Twitter’s TOS, which include photos:

“Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.”

Translation: roughly the same as above. See a pattern? Oh yeah, and Twitter also removes EXIF data from photos on upload.

I don’t really understand Pinterest, and the little I do know, I think it is one of the more useless social media sites floating around. Their terms are perhaps the most outrageous, and can be found here. But this language probably looks familiar by now: “You grant Pinterest and its users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using the Pinterest Products.”

I’m sure there are a few good companies out there, but at the end of they day, they are in business to make a buck, and it may very likely come at the expense of one of your images. Mobypicture and yFrog are photographer friendly to the best of my knowledge. Here is Mobypicture’s TOS:

“All rights of uploaded content by our users remain the property of our users and those rights can in no means be sold or used in a commercial way by Mobypicture or affiliated third party partners without consent from the user.”

Translation: none needed, just the way it should be.

There is a lot of discussion in photo circles about the power and importance of social media, and I don’t disagree with that sentiment. It is a great way to advertise your services, make connections and meet new clients. But it all comes with a cost, and it is important to stay informed, adjust your workflow appropriately, read the fine print and understand exactly what rights you are giving up by posting an image to a social media website. I also think it is important to maintain an active paying membership in organizations such as ASMP and NPPA, two groups that advocate for the rights of photographers and provide valuable resources regarding copyright protection.

I have gotten to the point where I don’t use a personal Facebook page (although I do have one), mostly because I don’t trust the company. If you have no regard for personal privacy, by all means, post away. I’ve also made a conscious decision that I don’t need to inform the world every time I enjoy a good steak dinner or have a problem with squirrels in my attic (food and home repairs consumed much of my Facebook posting).

The best way to enjoy life is not in front of some machine, and the best way to grow your business is still via personal contact.

Update: other posts worth checking out regarding the court case and TOS can be found here:
APhotoEditor blog re: court case; APhotoEditor blog re: Pinterest; The Russian Photos blog re: court case; and British Journal of Photography re: risks in social networks.


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