When we start making photos we really like, we often want to share our work with friends and family. We may have already been doing this via social networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. You might care to think about this a bit more deeply as your photography and videography becomes more serious.
For the most part, users never read the terms of service put in plain sight by these services. My own experience is that the terms are very clear about what you surrender, what rights you retain and how your work can be used. The truth is that it’s very unlikely that your smartphone snapshot of your grilled cheese sandwich is going to be reused by anyone for anything. However, that awesome sunset beach photo with the sailboat on the horizon that you upload to a sharing site is a prime target for reuse.
I’m not here to tell you where to put your work. Simply be aware of the rules that govern such posts, otherwise you may be surprised at where your work ends up. And based on the standard terms of service, you will have absolutely no say in how your work gets used.
Facebook is the largest social network in the world. The service showing the fastest growth is Instagram. Instagram is owned by Facebook. Both are popular sharing vehicles for images. You may be perfectly good with Facebook’s usage terms, but have you actually read them? For your own edification, take a look; (information directly taken from Facebook’s terms without modification or editing for content)
- 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.
- When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
- When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you. We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information. (To learn more about Platform, including how you can control what information other people may share with applications, read our Data Policy and Platform Page.)
- When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
- We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use your feedback or suggestions without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).
What does it all mean? You retain your ownership, but basically Facebook can do whatever it wants with your images without your further permission, consultation with you, or any engagement with you at all. Even if you delete something, it’s available until everyone you shared it with deletes it as well. If you posted something publicly, well it’s there forever. As I often have been heard to say, there is no delete key on the Internet.
My purpose is not to slam Facebook. They’ve done what they need to do to make their business successful. They aren’t in the business of hosting all this content for free. They use your information, including your images to help themselves be successful. Don’t be angry, they told you right up front in the terms and conditions, terms that you accepted unilaterally when you created an account.
Google has their own services for photographer and videographers. YouTube has been around for a long time and has its own terms and a single rights model. Have a look at what you may already have agreed to; (content as publicly provided by Google)
- As a YouTube account holder you may submit Content to the Service, including videos and user comments. You understand that YouTube does not guarantee any confidentiality with respect to any Content you submit.
- You shall be solely responsible for your own Content and the consequences of submitting and publishing your Content on the Service. You affirm, represent, and warrant that you own or have the necessary licenses, rights, consents, and permissions to publish Content you submit; and you license to YouTube all patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights in and to such Content for publication on the Service pursuant to these Terms of Service.
- For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your Content. However, by submitting Content to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube 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 YouTube’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. You also hereby grant each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service. The above licenses granted by you in video Content you submit to the Service terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you remove or delete your videos from the Service. You understand and agree, however, that YouTube may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of your videos that have been removed or deleted. The above licenses granted by you in user comments you submit are perpetual and irrevocable.
- You further agree that Content you submit to the Service will not contain third party copyrighted material, or material that is subject to other third party proprietary rights, unless you have permission from the rightful owner of the material or you are otherwise legally entitled to post the material and to grant YouTube all of the license rights granted herein.
- You further agree that you will not submit to the Service any Content or other material that is contrary to the YouTube Community Guidelines, currently found at http://www.youtube.ca/t/community_guidelines, which may be updated from time to time, or contrary to applicable local, national, and international laws and regulations.
- YouTube does not endorse any Content submitted to the Service by any user or other licensor, or any opinion, recommendation, or advice expressed therein, and YouTube expressly disclaims any and all liability in connection with Content. YouTube does not permit copyright infringing activities and infringement of intellectual property rights on the Service, and YouTube will remove all Content if properly notified that such Content infringes on another’s intellectual property rights. YouTube reserves the right to remove Content without prior notice.
Again, I am not slamming YouTube, I’m just encouraging you to know what you are permitting by participating. You promise to do everything they say and they agree that they can do pretty much anything they wish with your content without further consultation and approval. Google funds their business through a number of services, including advertising placement. These terms are written to make it easy for Google to do so.
I could go on and list similar terms and conditions for Flickr, 500px and a bunch of other sites and services, all of which have unique terms of service that you agree to when you sign up for an account. The general rule is that paid accounts give you more control where services you get for nothing give you less or no control, but read up before posting because all terms are subject to change without notice. Yup, the terms you agreed to when you signed up have probably changed since then and you may never have been advised, because the original terms that you agreed to included a part where change notices are not required.
But what if you want to share your excellent work with others, but don’t want your stuff to be used in ways that you wouldn’t like? A clue comes in the form of encouragement to store all your images or a lot of your images on a service in high resolution at no cost to you. Read the terms and conditions and consider what high-resolution images and videos could potentially be used for. As the great author Robert A. Heinlein once wrote, TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch).
If you want to post your content to a free service, my recommendation is only upload images at a maximum of 1024 pixels on the long side with a resolution of no more than 72 ppi. They will look great on web browsers and on mobile devices but will be too poor quality to be used for artwork in any professional sense. That doesn’t mean that some cretin will not take your images, do minor edits and sell them for tens of thousands of dollars as has already happened with images on Instagram, but you reduce the probability.
If you want more control, or want to share high-resolution results, consider a paid service such as 500px, SmugMug, Vimeo or others. The terms still need to be read but may be more suitable to your needs. You can also try a web hosting service like hostiserver where you can get more information on a hosting services as well as what they can offer you.
Since I get to write these articles, I will offer an opinion. Read the terms and if they sound like you could get screwed, you can, so don’t play. I don’t share personal work of any kind of quality on social media and never post personal information. You should do whatever is right for you. I recently saw an excellent presentation on Google Photos. The presenter was extremely enthusiastic about how the service offered unlimited storage of high-resolution images and would also make videos and collections completely independently of his requests or requirements. He loves that and that works for him. I wouldn’t upload a single high-resolution image to Google because I have read the terms of service and choose not to participate. Each of us has different needs and desired outcomes.
A number of businesses, groups and public organizations have pages on these services and offer hosting or even solicit your work for their page. Those pages are covered by the same terms of service, so just because your local whatever hosts a page on Facebook does not mean that you are any more protected. You aren’t. If you host a business and want to offer sharing services, you might want to get a private web hosting service like Certa Hosting, block the content against spiders and use proper scripts to prevent right click downloads. Otherwise you could be held liable for content infringement because the social hosts defray all responsibility by their own terms, and you as the page owner take ALL the accountability.
We live in a world that is often more concerned with what’s hot on social media or pretty selfies than with facts and intellectual property. Some of us may find this depressing, but we would be the minority. If you’re going to play in social media, the responsibility for knowing the waters you’ve jumped into is yours and no one else’s.
Until next time, peace.