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.

Facebook, privacy settings and taking control of your personal brand online


Facebook Logo sticker
Image by jaycameron via Flickr

Facebook today announced new features to address the criticism that is has faced recently for its privacy settings and processes. In December 2009 and then again in April this year, the site made a number of changes to its privacy options and settings. In essence they opened up more data to users beyond your friends and immediate networks and changed some of the default settings. This led to the situation where users had 50 different settings and 170 options to control the levels of access to and sharing of the data and information on their profiles.

As somebody with quite strict levels of access and privacy on Facebook, I know the complexity of these controls and the amount of time and effort needed to control access to your profile and your content. Sites like Openbook, which searches publicly viewable status updates, highlighting the vast amount of content that is out there for everybody to see. In many cases this isn’t because people have actively chosen to share this information outside their friendship groups and networks, but a result of not changing or fully managing your privacy settings.

What Facebook’s privacy changes mean

Today’s announcements are designed to make it simpler for users to see what their Facebook privacy settings are, and to manage them. The changes, to be rolled-out over the coming weeks, will mean that users will be able to:

  • have one simple control over who sees their content - everybody, friends-of-friends or just your own friends
  • easily see what their profile looks like to others
  • opt out of sharing their information with third-party applications
  • opt out of sharing your friends and pages

How easy the process will be, and how much you will actually be able to change will be fully understood as the new privacy settings roll-out, and there are already discussions about the ‘Recommended’ settings shown by Facebook. These will suggest that users share with everybody their status, photos and posts, biographies, family and relationship information. This may be more than some are willing to do.

The real test: will people manage their brand online

However, the real test of the new privacy settings will be the extent to which users actually make use of the ability to edit what they share about themselves and the information they add to Facebook. The previous settings did not help people to make these decisions and changes and to take control of their brand on Facebook without a lot of hassle. The power of the new changes will be if they encourage people to take control of their brand online. This may not mean that everybody stops sharing things, but is more likely to see people making sensible decisions about what they share and why. And this can only be a good thing.

We use social media tools, such as Facebook, for different reasons. Maybe we use it to keep up to date with school-friends, or maybe as a personal organiser for our lives right now, or maybe we just document our holidays with photos. Different people use Facebook for different reasons and so a single approach to privacy settings is not appropriate. That is why it is good that Facebook lets users manage their own settings - we each own our own brand online and should make sensible decisions about how we interact with and share from any social media tool we use.

The real test of the new privacy settings on Facebook will not be how many people share more or less of their data. The real test will be how many people take control of their personal brand and make sensible, and often personal, decisions about what to share, with whom and in what circumstances.

Podcast: The importance of owning your personal brand in social media


The icon used by Apple to represent Podcasting.
Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments with social media is that it allows anybody, from a large global consumer brand to an individual to build their personal brand online. To some extent some of the same rules apply - decide what you want to do and why you are using social media and then make sure you are using it in a way that helps you to achieve this. For individuals, of course, the most important thing is acknowledge in the first place that by using social media you are building your own brand, whether you intend it or not. The main advice is that only you can be in charge of your brand online and in social media, and so you should take control of it.

This is important - especially for job-hunters. I recorded a podcast for Guardian Careers last week talking about the importance of owning your personal brand and building your network online in social media. We also discuss:

  • what a social media agency is and what it does
  • why it’s best if a brand manages its own presence online (but why it usually needs expert help to do this)
  • how you can network and build your connections online
  • the best use of LinkedIn (and how this is different from Facebook)
  • why you need to be aware that people are able to find information out about you even if you haven’t told them
  • that you should take control of your own brand and use privacy settings sensibly to help you do this

Oh and you’ll also find out how I got from a degree in French and Russian at Cambridge to be where I am today.

You can listen to the podcast on the Guardian website: Careers Talk: Job hunting using social media

The podcast is also on iTunes

Project Gaydar and online privacy (or what you might be telling the world)


Speak No Evil, See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Image by Alicakes* via Flickr

An experiment by students at MIT has shown that they were able to ‘successfully’ predict the sexuality of people based on their friends on Facebook. The so-called ‘Project Gaydar’* showed that by looking at information that a person’s friends share online (in this case, their gender and sexual preferences) they were able to learn something about an individual themselves, even if their profile had high levels of privacy.

On one hand this may not be ground-breaking research - people tend to be friends with people who have similar interests to them and so it might be expected that gay men are likely to have a higher than average proportion of gay male friends. However, the research does highlight, again, the privacy issues that people need to think about when using social networks, and when sharing information online.

The ongoing growth of social networks and online communities is actually the tale of the ongoing growth of people sharing information online. This is a good thing. People are connecting with friends old and new, and are engaging with people and organisations who have similar interests, face similar challenges or are discussing similar questions. This sharing of information is unprecedented. It allows people to get advice and recommendations from people like them, and from people who are in similar situations. This is a huge benefit to individuals and organisations alike, but this sharing of information does, of course, mean that people are sharing things about themselves with anybody who may stumble cross the content they have added. And if people are able to put together your contributions to various communities and sites, they may know more about you than you realise.

That people can read things that you are sharing online should be no surprise to anybody. But that people can analyse your connections and the various contributions you make across the web, now and in the past, means that they can, if they so choose, build up a fairly comprehensive picture. What the MIT students did with just one facet of somebody’s life (their sexuality) could be repeated to build a much more complete picture of people using the information they leave across social networks and online communities. That this surprises people is a sign of the maturity of social networking, and online communities more broadly asa social phenomenon.

People are, in many cases, just using online communities as extensions of their offline activity. They are doing old things in new ways. Meeting people, talking to friends, solving problems, sharing advice. The real power of social media is that it is a large collection of information that is connected to people, organisations or places, and that is archived and kept for posterity. It can be sorted, added to, amended and changed by the person who originally contributed it or by others. People are associating themselves with data in a vast information resource, just by doing what they will do anyway.

This is, of course, the power of social media and why it offers so much to us all. But many people are still thinking of it as just a new medium through which to do old things. That is why they don’t realise the full extent of what they are sharing (and why this can be a powerful and good thing) and why they are shocked by the findings of studies such as ‘Project Gaydar’ at MIT.

* You can read the full paper here - Gaydar: Facebook friendships expose sexual orientation