What rights do I have over photos I publish online?

What rights do I have over photos I publish online?

The abundance of social networking sites have enabled people to publish and share photos online with whomever they want; however, the existence of these sites also means that it is a lot easier for such photos to now be copied and misused. Who actually owns the rights to your photos once you upload them onto social networks; and are you at risk of seeing them all over the internet and elsewhere?

What are your rights?

The mere act of taking a photograph makes you, as the photographer, the owner of that photo, and you will hold the copyright for it. Unless you publish the photo online with an accompanying message permitting people to copy and use or share it, then sharing it on social network sites does not diminish or reduce your right to ownership of the photo.

As stated within Facebook’s terms regarding the sharing of content and information:

“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.”

Similarly, Flickr and Yahoo’s terms of service state that they do not own the photos that you upload and members retain all ownership rights to photos uploaded. Indeed, members of Flickr and Yahoo are able to set the kind of licence that they want when they upload photos, giving the owner control over how the photos can be used by others. The default licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’.

What rights do the social network companies have?

Although merely publishing photos on sites such as Facebook and Flickr will not remove or reduce your ownership rights, you do need to carefully consider the kind of content you are uploading onto these sites.

Facebook’s terms of service clearly state that, by publishing photos on the site, you are granting Facebook the licence to use the content that you post on or in connection with Facebook. The scope of the license is wide, as the terms stipulate that the license is “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide”. 

Arguably, therefore, it is unclear as to whether or not Facebook has the right to use the content you publish for purposes other than those in connection with Facebook. It is also important to note that, although the licence terminates when you delete your account, this does not apply in circumstances where you have shared your photos with others and they have not deleted them.

Flickr’s terms of service allows them to “use, distribute, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo! Services solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available”.
The wording of this is narrower than that of Facebook and if you adequately control your licensing settings when you upload images you can limit the use of them by Flickr.

How can you protect yourself

  • Be aware of the rules and terms of the site you are publishing your images to;
  • avoid posting particularly sensitive photos;
  • use your privacy and licensing settings selectively; and
  • if your content is on a network that could distribute it, delete anything you do not wish to be shared.

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