Facebook and Copyright

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Today’s Question: What is the situation with Facebook and ownership of a photographer’s images? I don’t post many photos but am still concerned. I’m also a member of a photographer’s collective and many of our members post frequently.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In my opinion (as a non-lawyer with no formal legal education) the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” included as part of Facebook’s Terms of Use make it very clear that you retain the copyright to all images you post to Facebook. Obviously there is some concern that others may steal copies of photos you share, but from a legal perspective you retain ownership of your photos.

More Detail: I fully recognize that many photographers are concerned about the terms of use that apply to the photos they share in a variety of ways. For example, it is somewhat widely known among photographers that some photo contests include terms of use that provide unlimited and perpetual use of any photos you submit, even if you never win any prize in the contest.

In my opinion, however, Facebook has drafted (and updated) their Terms of Use in a way that respects the rights of photographers. To begin with, the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” makes it clear to me that when you post any content to Facebook, you retain any legal copyright over that content. You are simply providing a license to Facebook so they can actually host your content and make it available on the Facebook platform.

For example, section 2 of the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” begins with this text:

“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.”

Furthermore, you have control over the privacy settings for any content you share on Facebook. For example, you can choose to make the post public so anyone on Facebook can see it, or to share it only with friends you are connected with on Facebook.

Personally, I view the ability to share my photos in this way as providing some degree of benefit to me. For example, when I share photos during one of my field photography workshops, in reply I often receive inquiries from photographers who want to join me for a future workshop. To me the potential benefits outweigh the risks of image piracy, but it is up to each photographer to determine what they are comfortable with.

But again, when it comes to the Terms of Service for Facebook, I don’t find anything that causes me to be alarmed, or that would cause me to be uncomfortable sharing my photos through Facebook.

If you’d like to read the full contents of the Facebook “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” by following this link:

https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms