Copyright and Terms of Service

Post pictures on Facebook? If so, you're not alone, millions of us do. That includes me, but I'm rethinking that idea quite seriously.

The use of social media, notably Facebook and Instagram, has become ubiquitous in the daily lives of many people. For many, this is a way of keeping in touch, sharing snapshots, life events, and so much more. For the most part, this is a truly great thing, something I'm grateful to have available. There's a side to this, though, that people who create need to be aware of and that's intellectual property rights and, more importantly, what you're giving up when you do post to one of these services.

For example, here's Facebook's terms of service for intellectual property you upload:

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.
I've emphasized the part of this term that really, really, matters to you. Yes, you've granted Facebook the right to transfer and sub-license your creative work. Better yet, you're doing it royalty free! This is not the first time I've commented on such a subject, the last time was about the Toronto Star and photo competitions getting you to submit photos. Now, some of you might suggest that your privacy settings effect this, but how? It's not spelled out in the terms and just because you might choose to read into that statement, doesn't mean that it would hold up in a legal challenge. You're still sharing the photos and that means you've granted it. Even worse, if a friend shares it, it sticks around after you delete!

That's not necessarily a big problem, right? After all, Facebook needs to be able to distribute your photos as a part of the actual service. This is true, but transfer or sub-license? Ah, not so much and that leads to services that will print your images for other Facebook users. Do you have the right to prevent? I don't know, it's murky. Did Facebook give them that right? They can and, well, you can't actually stop them. In fact, if a "friend" wants to ensure that they can do this they just need to share your image! Now, that wouldn't be much of a friend, but you see the problem?

Once again, it's been driven home to me that copyright and licensing are real things that photographers, professional or amateur, need to be thinking about. Sure, share basic snapshots, these are not a big deal, so I'm not worried about that. Other types of images, that's different, and now I need to think really long and hard about what gets to stay on Facebook going forward.


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