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Photographers’ Rights In Social Media

Specifically Google+ And Facebook

There’s a lot of buzz about Google+ (Google Plus) lately and as an early tester of the “project,” it’s quite cool, though I’m only updating my Google Plus account as I have time. Lord knows, it’s a daily challenge just to keep up with my blogs (3), Twitter, Facebook fan page, Linkedin, my professional online portfolio, my photography workshops, upcoming books, video tutorials and the list goes on. Oh, did I mention I have five kids?

Social media is a channel to communicate your photography.

Well the fact of it is, we’re so inundated with being “online social” today, that we sometimes may not even leave the house. I’m not going to kid you, this past week was a great example—I literally spent three days in my house without even opening the front door. I swear, my Vitamin D dropped from a lack of sunshine—doesn’t help, I’m lactose intolerant!

Regardless, social mediums are very important for photographers today, especially for marketing. Marketing is key for photographers to survive in today’s crazy times. It’s a must. (See: “Twook to Build Your Brand” and “Every Photographer Needs A Facebook Fan Page.”)

But there are problems, especially for photographers, on these social media sites—photo rights! Yes, it’s funny how the social media that relies on “user uploaded photos” doesn’t truly understand how their rules impact photographers. So let’s look at my favorite of all social media providers, Facebook. I think they are currently the best at assuring photographers of their rights and others could learn from them. Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibility” is designed to protect them, rightfully so, but it protects photographers indirectly too. Let’s look:

“Para 2., Sect. 1 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”).
Sect. 2 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’m not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, and I would caution you to seek one for their interpretation, these are just my non-legal opinions, but their statement is to protect Facebook and common sense tells me, if you upload your photos on their site, other people are going to see them, there’s over 700 million people on Facebook. This is the only way legally Facebook can allow you upload photos and guard themselves from any legal action, especially if you didn’t want a particular person to see that photo. Every website that allows user supplied photo uploads has to have policies that covers their butts.

The “transferable” part just means, if they sell their company to someone else, the terms stay in effect and don’t end. The “royalty-free” just means, yes they’re making money off everyone’s participation on their site because of its tremendous traffic but they’re not going to compensate you for putting your photos on their site to share with your followers. Rightfully so, they provide you a free service to share and connect with your friends and possible clientele. It’s a reasonable trade-off considering the potential of Facebook profiles and fan pages for photographers to tout their talent. Many photographers pick up clients and sell their talent on Facebook–where else can you have the potential to get exposer to over 700 million people for free?

Baby Photo

My daughter, about nine years ago, has grown with social media.

When someone views your photo, that’s a page view for Facebook, valuable to them, and advertising of your talents, valuable to you. You get to share it with your friends and existing/potential clients too—and Facebook will serve them ads when they view your photo, like any other served page on Facebook, but that’s what you sacrifice to use their FREE service.

The best analogy here is what many Internet photographers and models call TFP, time for prints. A model poses for a photographer for free in exchange for free photos from the photographer; no one charges the other for their services. Same with social media channels, you upload your images on their site for free, they let you share your photos with your friends (and possibly clients) and provide their technology (hardware/software) that allows you to do so, but they don’t charge you, you don’t charge them—TFS, or time for services.

The “world-wide license” just means World Wide Web. If you post your photos on Facebook, technically you know they’re on the Internet, and you’re part of their intranet, which is available to your friends, fans, possible clients and the world. And if anyone has it right, it’s Facebook with this statement, “subject to your privacy and application settings….” In other words, you can control some of the exposure of your photos to the world based on your privacy settings, i.e., Friends Only, Friends of Friends, Everyone, etc. Facebook even spells it out for you slightly beneath the above statement with, “When you publish content or information using the ‘everyone’ 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).”

Now, since we know Facebook and other social media sites are great for marketing, especially Facebook fan pages, you should upload your best images. Sure, some people will say, “Are you kidding! What if my photo becomes a masterpiece or someone purchase all rights to it, perhaps for an advertising campaign? That’s the beauty of Facebook, under their terms, “This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account…” so just delete your photo and then the rights are relinquished. Everybody wins! Again, if you’re that serious, seek legal counsel, these are just my opinions, and even though I’m a State of Texas mediator, I’m no lawyer.

Now let’s look at the new Google+ terms of service that affects photography rights:

“11.1 …By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

“11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.”

“11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.”

Again, Google, like all other social media sites is going to cover their butts. I fully understand. But they need some serious overhauling of their terms for photos if they plan on photographers truly utilizing their services when it comes to uploading their best photos.

First, there is no termination of rights statement like Facebook provides. That’s scary, especially since Google+ uses the word “perpetual” in their terms. Google+ needs to clarify when the rights end and how a photographer can end them when needed—especially if a photographer sells their rights to a third-party. Now I love Google as a search engine, I love my Gmail, and I like what Google+ has to offer so far, so hopefully they’ll fix this, but it doesn’t end there.

Manipulated Photo

The potential for image manipulation scares many photographers.

Second, “modify” is a nasty word to photographers when it comes to giving someone the right to modify their images arbitrarily, without any control or oversight. I certainly don’t want Google or anyone taking one of my model’s photos and replacing her head with another person’s head. This needs more clarification, besides, I don’t need a subject suing me because someone else altered their looks of one of my photos—and I’m sure Google wouldn’t do this—but for the record, my model releases allow me to manipulate any photo I take, so I’m covered.

Third, “syndicated” is a word often associated with stock photography companies when it comes to professional photography. Often in syndication, each time a photo is used through that syndication, the value drops. Again, more clarification is needed here, especially since the paragraph before that addresses “royalty-free,” another dirty word when it comes to stock photography and professional photographers.

I want to add, to Google’s credit, Google+ is currently a by invitation only “project” in progress, or as they say, “The Google+ project Field Trial.” So they are relying on those “invited,” like myself, to give them feedback to help make it a better user experience for everyone. Again, I love all the features it has, but they do need to work on their legal terms when it comes to photographers’ rights.

Now those are the major points in Google+’s terms of service (TOS) when it comes to photography that will impact photographers. (See comments below for additional info.) I hope that Google will form a “focus group” of photographers and get their opinions and clarification to make Google+ a viable social media for photographers like Facebook personal profiles and fan pages. While I won’t close down my Facebook accounts, I don’t mind what Google+ has to offer—besides, I gave up on Myspace and with my congested life, I’m sure I can squeeze in Google+ as it ties into all my other Google services I use very seamlessly. Besides, my Gmail is always open in my browser right next to my Facebook profile and Twitter, though the sun rarely shines in my office as I work more at night when it comes to updating my social media sites.

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  1. Good info here. The disclaimer scared me because I don’t speak lawyer. This was a good breakdown.

    • Didn’t mean to scare you, but you know how it is, always have to have a disclaimer. 😉 Though if in doubt, seek legal advice. Thanks, rg

  2. Timely. Today a performer complained that my photos of her from last month couldn’t be copied from the online gallery (I had used ‘flash’ this time). When I responded to her that I had too many instances of image theft, her response was… “oh, ok… can you send me the photos?” (for free of course is what she meant).

    • I know the feeling, I’ve had people take my images and remove the copyright notice, add to their websites, which ironically have major copyright notices to their audience. One even stole part of my logo of one of my other websites and used it as their logo for their “web design” business website. It’s crazy sometimes.

  3. To get around posting ANY photography on my FB Photography page I simply post links back to my photograph website. That way I get eyes on my page and increased traffic. Doing this I avoid all possibility of my rights being. taken away.

  4. I post my pictures on flickr, and link them to FB. Any idea how they fit into the all discussion in terms of rights, ownership, reproduction and the rest ?

    • I’m not a lawyer so I will not speculate how Flickr and Facebook work in terms of service. More than likely, Facebook supersedes because you’re still serving it as part of your Facebook page through their services.

  5. Did you just copy the Google+ TOS extract from Scott Bourne’s rant? Because if you didn’t, I find it interesting that you both chose to omit the same parts of the TOS extract. You know, the parts that protect the rights of the photographer.

    Here’s the link to the full TOS for Google’s services, including Google+ and Picasa.

    • First, I don’t use Picasa so I’m not familiar with their terms. Second, I posted, from section 11, what impacts a photographer, because Google does not mention anywhere in their terms of service the word “photographer.” I do not see where the first sentence, “You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.” holds any validity on the point of this article, which is about Google, not Google users. Google strips those copyrights immediately “for Google,” in the sentence immediately following and that’s where I started my cut and paste of “their” words.

      Any professional photographer knows we “retain the copyright…” and we don’t need a lawyer, Google or Facebook to tell us that, so that’s why it was omitted. A photographer owns their copyright to the images they take immediately when the shutter is depressed. There a few exceptions that pertain for work for hire and obviously anyone that is employed by the Government, i.e., military photographers, government employees in certain instances, etc., in reference to public domain work.

      Google further dilutes their first sentence in Section 11.1 above, something you are obviously referring to, in section 11.2 with, “…other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services.” (To prevent confusion, I’ll add the section numbers, though I didn’t use the section numbers for the Facebook terms I quoted either.)

      The only other section I see that can possibly protect a photographer, but doesn’t specify photographers, is for any “IP,” Intellectual Property owner, in Section 16, but there too, that pertains only to Google “users” not Google or the conveyance outlined in Section 11.2. This is for Google “users” that would copyright “infringe” by using Google services and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice.

      Again, I’m a State of Texas Certified Mediator, not an attorney, and I would caution anyone reading this blog post and comments to seek their own legal counsel. These are my opinions and not legal advice. My goal wasn’t to “slam” Google, in fact I’m a big fan of Google as I use their search engine as my main search tool, I use Gmail, Google Analytics, Youtube, Feedburner, Adwords, Adsense, etc., and I’m a Google+ user. I truly like what Google+ has to offer and my blog post is in hopes that if enough “photographers” let Google know that their terms are not photographer friendly, especially to professional photographers, they will adapt similar policies to what Facebook offers photographers. I hope that helps, rg.

  6. Rolando, is it because of the TOS you watermark your photos on Facebook?

    • I don’t watermark, I put a copyright stamp notice on all my photos there and other places. Under the revision of the Copyright Act, think it was in 1976, I don’t have to put it there, but I do, as another form of deterrence as not everyone knows the Copyright Act.

  7. Good post. One needs to bear these things in mind… now, make sure that your contracts with models, or wedding couples covers FB and all their provisions, to cover your butt!

  8. Just to address Facebook, I find their actions louder than words. Specifically, that they promote IP theft and are guilty of copyright infringement the second you upload. Yep… just look below one of your photos and there’s a download button making it very easy for anyone to grab your photos, and to top it off, they strip the EXIF data. Now if someone were to get nit-picky, stripping the EXIF data IS copyright infringement. The file copyrighted is the complete file which they alter. Secondly it infringes on the right to attribution AND removal of copyright notice. Many of us include attribution with the copyright notice in the EXIF data. Google doesn’t do this and does give attribution to public access images.

  9. Can someone tell me if large media companies such as Associated press has large lenses like the 400mm for their photographers to use for events they cover.?


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Welcome to (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

Lens Diaries™ is open to all levels of photographers, beginners to advanced, including fine art photography, fashion photography, wedding photography, portrait photography, people photography, baby photography, sports photography, nature photography, iphoneography, landscape photography, studio photography, underwater photography, etc.

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