What are your social media photo rights? Image T&Cs examined


What are your social media photo rights?It’s always an area that has little transparency, who actually owns the rights to our images once we upload them to social networks? Could I end up seeing one of my photos all over the web, in the papers or on TV? It’s a common question that’s asked when we run our social media strategy sessions with clients.

Steps to retaining the copyright of your content

First, determine whether sharing an image is a bad thing. Sometimes, an image being viewed many times can be good for your personal and professional brand image. However, if you want to protect yourself:

  1. Understand the rules of the site you use (they change often)
  2. Avoid posting pictures that you’re particularly ‘protective’ over
  3. Delete or export any content that you don’t want shared if it’s on a network that could distribute it (see a great post by The Next Web for more information on this)
  4. Be selective with your privacy settings and licensing selections
  5. Use sites like TinEye to see if your images are being shared where they shouldn’t be.

Kathy E Gill from Media Shift compiled a great list of the terms and conditions relating to photo usage on most social media sites. It’s a great resource for seeing the relevant information side by side and identifying which platforms could take credit for the photos that you create. (She also wrote a great blog post covering this in more detail)

So who are the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of photography rights?

Retain most rights:

“You retain full copyright of any original content that you send us. By posting to Posterous, you’re granting us a license to distribute your content on this site.”

Your images are licensed for use on Posterous but you retain how they are distributed.

flickr (by Yahoo!)
“Photos and/or images found on Yahoo! Images or Flickr are the property of the users that posted them. Yahoo! cannot grant permission to use third party content. Please contact the user directly.”

As long as you control your licensing settings you can limit use to Yahoo! properties.

yFrog (by ImageShack)

“The content that you distribute through the ImageShack Network is owned by you, and you give ImageShack permission to display and distribute said content exclusively on the ImageShack Network.”

After the Twitpic cotroversy, ImageShack have reversed their policy to give you more rights and limit the use to the ImageShack network.

Publicity / partner sharing:

Picasa (by Google)

“You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. 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.”

This distribution of your content is also extended to the Google Partners, of which there are many!


“Instagram does NOT claim ANY ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, applications, or any other materials.”

However any content that is shared publicly can be used by Instagram for their promotion across any media.

Limited rights / sublicensing:

All of the following services have some form of ‘sub-licensable’ rights:


“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.”


“However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic 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 Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service.”


“Subscriber shall own all Subscriber Content that Subscriber contributes to the Site, but hereby grants and agrees to grant Tumblr a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, transferable right and license (with the right to sublicense), to use, copy, cache, publish, display, distribute, modify, create derivative works and store such Subscriber Content and to allow others to do so (“Content License”) in order to provide the Services.”


“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)”

All the statements about terms and conditions of the various photo sharing sites in this post are my own interpretation. Please visit the terms and conditions of the relevant site to view the official statements.

Not everybody likes using words


1413 I wrote you a message:Image by Simmy. via Flickr

It can be tempting, sometimes, to thing that online communities and social networks are about words. About people writing their current status, discussing in forums or sharing ideas. It can be tempting to think that text is king. And this just isn’t so.

There are many reasons for the over-dominance of text in some online communities, but two important ones are

  1. the original message boards and forums were predominantly for text communications
  2. until relatively recently text was the easiest way for users to get content onto the internet

But with a rise of both social media rich sites and of webcams and broadband connections this is no longer the case. People can now communicate their ideas easily in text, image, video or voice. As long as we let them, that is.

The truth is that not everybody likes using words, and even for those who do, sometimes an image or a video can convey things that words just can’t. If we want people to communicate their ideas and interests in our online communities we should then allow them to use whatever medium suits them best for the message they want to convey. We should allow images to alternate with text and video to be posted in response to written questions. If you make it easy for people to do this and to breakdown the barriers for communicating then you will find that you get both more and more creative ideas.

Images do foster creativity and they allow a different kind of conversation and exchange of ideas to take place. Just take a look at sites like Dailybooth to see this in action. The premise of the site is simple - members are encouraged to upload a photo of themselves everyday. But where it gets really interesting is to look at the comments. Photos beget photos - people respond to the photos with photo comments of their own. This leads to a level of creativity, ideas exchange and insight that just isn’t possible with text. Whether it’s people showing the latest item of clothing they bought, part of their home or just exchanging wishes by photo, this is the kind of insight that any brand or organisation could benefit from.

So not everybody likes words and, perhaps more importantly, words are constrictive.They don’t allow us to exchange many ideas that are or interest and of value. So no online community (and especially no online research community) should restrict its users to text-only conversation. The reverse should be true. They should encourage people to share ideas in whatever medium makes sense to them. Technology should not limit them and should be invisible. It’s the ideas that count, after all.