The most commonly used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and so on, all have terms and conditions which might grant them some fairly wide-ranging rights to them in respect of creative material ('content') that you upload.
It would apparently take an average of 76 working days to read all the privacy policies you encounter on the internet in any given year. So it's not surprising that many users don't always take the time to read the fine print.
"[…] when you share, post or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (e.g. photos or videos) on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide licence to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings)."Facebook Ts&Cs
Spanning over 14,000 words, Facebook's terms and conditions are a lengthy tome! But, buried deep in there is this little gem: "You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook". Oh and Facebook-owned Instagram's terms has a exactly the same clause.
"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). "Twitter Ts&Cs
Twitter has an almost identical clause: "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 get the idea right?
So what should you look out for?
Terms to be aware of in the licence to use include:
- Non-exclusive: this means you can continue to use the work for all purposes (with the exception of granting anyone else an exclusive licence to use the work for the purpose already licensed)
- Royalty-free: this means you will not get paid for the use of your work
- Modification: this typically means you allow the platform to resize/crop/alter your image to suit the needs of the platform
- Irrevocable: this means you cannot cancel the licence to use your material, although there may be additional clauses that allow the termination of a licence should you cancel your account with that platform. However, this should be looked at in conjunction with any term that allows sub-licensing (see below). Also be aware that if your imagery has been shared to another user's account, it will remain on the platform unless they close their account too
- Sub-licensable (or right to sublicense): this allows other users of the platform to share your material. It is essential for social media platforms; otherwise other users would need your express permission to re-post/share and so on. Again, it's worth noting that whilst a licence might largely be terminated upon cancellation of your account, existing shares and re-posts of your material may continue online because of this sub-licence.
- Perpetual: although this technically means ‘forever', it is usually used to mean ‘until such time as you cancel your account'. However, you should check that this is the case, as otherwise, the licence to use (rights granted) could continue indefinitely
- Incorporation into other works: this allows your material to be used in ‘mash-ups' or 'remixes', which can often generate a new copyright in the resulting work, in addition to your own copyright in your material
Some things to remember
If you're going to generate interest in your business, it's a necessity these days that you share your work online so that potential clients get an idea of what your work is like. So, to minimise the risk of your work being copied or used unlawfully, try and get into the habit of taking these few simple precautions when uploading your work to social media sites
- Never post media for which you have granted an exclusive licence to your client, on to social media platforms, unless you have their written permission. Try and use substantially different shots to generate interest or to publicise your own activity
- To minimise the risk of your work being copied and used without your permission, consider watermarking your own images in some way, which still allows for a decent viewing experience, but is not easy to remove (a good way is to add your website address to add a level of self-promotion to the watermark and include a copyright notice too)
- Be aware that anything you do post onto social media platforms is likely to be used without your permission at some point
- Don't upload images at too high a resolution, if possible. Instagram is good in the sense that the images are not ‘zoom-able' and resolutions are restricted as a result
- Make sure all your images have the appropriate metadata embedded – although the majority of social media platforms strip some of your metadata, it is likely that the basics will remain intact, which aids identification of your work should you need to (re)claim ownership
- You might want to consider digitally watermarking your media either in the traditional way or, if you want to get sophisticated, you could use steganography to embed/hide secret messages or copyright information within a host-image. There are services which can help you with this.
Do you have copyright or IP concerns when uploading your material to social media sites? Or, like most people nowadays, do you just accept that that is the way things are; you're getting access to this free platform and therefore you (and you material) are the product? Whatever your attitude, you need to mindful of the rights you're giving away as soon as you upload your media to social media services.