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Point, shoot, protect rights to photos Print E-mail
By Ken Satterfield   
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Recently, someone posed an interesting question: Who owns the pictures you share online?

Well, you do, of course. You used your camera and spent hours to get the picture just right. You developed or downloaded the pictures, and then uploaded them onto online pages and albums.

The answer is not always that easy.

For instance, Peter was on Facebook last year and saw this personalized ad: “Hey Peter — Hot singles are waiting for you!!” with a picture of — his wife. She blogs about the experience at tinyurl.com/hotsinglesad and tells you how to avoid this.

As it turns out, the incident was due to a third-party application, not Facebook. But Facebook does say in its FAQ section that its own advertising system can associate a friend’s picture with an ad for a page where they have become a fan.

So who owns your pictures?

Facebook raised the ire of thousands of users in 2009 when it changed its terms of service to seem to say that if you post a picture you grant the company a personal license. (Read the New York Times story at tinyurl.com/WhoOwnsFacebookPix.)

Responding that Facebook was trying to protect itself, company officials updated the terms now to say users own their content and “[f]or content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos …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.” The full text explains that the agreement is subject to your privacy settings, and explains what happens when you close your account (face book.com/terms.php).

It’s no secret that many people don’t bother to read the terms of service or end-user license agreement (EULA) in the services and software purchased.

PC Pitstop hid a clause in a EULA until, after four months, a reader claimed the $1,000 it offered ("It Pays to Read License Agreements,"pcpitstop.com/spycheck/eula.asp).

And this year for April Fools’ Day, computer game retailer GameStation changed its EULA and 7,500 online shoppers unwittingly sold their souls (last.fm/forum/23/_/618159).

Free tools found at spywareguide.com/analyze/index.php and javacoolsoftware.com/eulalyzer.html can help you by analyzing EULAs for unusual terms.

Back to pictures and videos. Other services also state usage terms.

Flickr, owned by Yahoo, says in its policy (info.yahoo.com/copyright) that it “respects the intellectual property of others.” And the terms of service (tinyurl.com/flickrTOS) states that the company “does not claim ownership of content you submit” but that it is able to use it.

Early last year, terms of use for Google’s Picasa included “by submitting, posting or displaying the content, you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to reproduce…any [c]ontent which you submit.”

But after users questioned it, the wording was changed to state more clearly: “Google does not claim any ownership in any of the content” (picasa.google.com/legal_notices.html).  

Google also owns YouTube. Like Facebook, its terms of service (youtube.com/t/terms) says that you own videos you post, but that Google can use all or part of your videos as can other viewers, with some limitations.

What about Photobucket? Its terms of use, updated in June, states that it does not claim any ownership rights, but it and other users can use and even make t-shirts from your images, unless they are marked as private.

The bottom line: You own your content, but often you release your exclusive rights to use it.

The nonprofit Creative Commons (creativecommons.org) may help you share content the way you desire.

Remember to read the fine print in the services you use. And remember, most services also can modify these agreements without notice.

Ken Satterfield, who quickly points out he is not a lawyer, is a former media specialist and current staff member of Word&Way.

 
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