Maintaining Ownership of Your Images

Scott Bourne made some interesting points on the blog Photofocus. He pointed out something many of us overlook in today’s world of social media marketing and sharing – that posting a photo via Twitter (which will apparently soon be possible) or Twitpic, or even on sites like Facebook means you have basically given up control of your content.  He shares some points from Twitter’s Terms of Service (TOS):

“By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”

“You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.”

He further goes on to point out that any photo previously shared online can no longer be sold as an “exclusive” and asks whether the exposure you gain from sharing on a service like Twitter is worth what you lose.

Basically he says everything that needs to be said, I’m just repeating it here because it can’t be overemphasized.  READ your terms of service – no matter what online resource you use.  Yes, it’s pesky and long, and dry, but before you check that little box that says you agree, READ.  Every site is different – and my observation has been that generally, the more “free” a site is, the less likely you are to maintain exclusive rights to your content, whether photo, video, music, whatever.  Both Facebook and Twitter – the biggest and both free – are explicit about the fact that they can do whatever they want with whatever you post.  I caution my kids on what they post – “maybe one day a college application may depend on it” – and am told about privacy filters.  That’s the case TODAY.  In five years, the TOS make it clear that if they WANT to, they can do pretty much anything with your content.

So what’s the alternative?  Not to post anything online so that no one can “steal” it?  Actually there are a number of alternatives.  The easiest way to ensure your content is not re-used in ways you don’t intend is to downgrade the resolution of what you post.  A picture or video can look great on a computer screen but be pretty much worthless in print.  Then you can let it be re-tweeted all day long.  If you want to go the extra step, most likely if you’re actually in the position of earning money from your content, you may want to add some sort of watermark.  I find the watermarks on iStockphoto and other sites to be a bit irritating, but they won’t be stolen.  Maybe something more subtle would be enough.  You can do similar things with audio content.

But the most important point is already made by Bourne.  Read the TOS.  There are photo sharing sites out there that allow you to maintain ownership of your content, and others that don’t.  You may have to spend a little dough, but hey, you’re receiving a service, right?

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