Sharing your photos online is fantastic, especially if you’re starting out in photography and want to discuss everything about settings, cameras and lenses with like-minded people. It’s great for constructive criticism, meeting new people, sharing ideas and getting inspiration for new projects and shoots. For this something like Flickr is excellent as you can sign up for a free account, upload up to 200 photos and start getting involved with the community side of photo sharing.
You do of course have to be careful with copyrights. As with publishing anything in the public domain, copyright becomes an issue if your photographs are used without your permission.
Flickr allows the photographer to choose what usage terms are attached to each of their photos, ranging from “All rights reserved” to the Creative Commons licence. Furthermore, users can sign up to allow their photos to be purchased through Getty Images. All this gives the photographer the best way of protecting what’s theirs. Users can also choose how their photos should be made available, aside of the copyright policy; settings can be changed to allow the original, full sized photo to be downloaded by anyone, just friends and family or no-one at all.
Flickr gets 5 out of 5 for wholeheartedly maintaining photographers’ rights.
Instagram is a smartphone app that has become hugely popular thanks to being free, easy to use and delivering great, arty shots. In keeping with the modern online lifestyle, Instagram shares to Twitter and Facebook and also has its own stream where people follow other Instagrammers and can ‘like’ them and such.
However, Instagram’s copyright policy really irks me. Here is their policy in bold with my interpretation and comments in italics.
Proprietary Rights in Content on Instagram.
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 (collectively, “Content”) that you post on or through the Instagram Services.
This is great; your copyright is not being violated by Instagram trying to pass your photos off as their own.
By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the Instagram Services, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content not shared publicly (“private”) will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services.
This scares me. They don’t claim any ownership of your photos BUT they will happily publish your content anywhere without having to ask you first. Not only that, they will even modify it if they so desire. By how much? Surely modification means that it is no longer your original work? The upshot is that you don’t pay to use the service and in return you forfeit your right to have a say in what happens to your public content. I don’t know how that’s right.
Some of the Instagram Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions, and you hereby agree that Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Instagram Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.
That’s fine. They’ve got to make money somewhere; would anyone really use it if it required a subscription? Probably not.
You represent and warrant that: (i) you own the Content posted by you on or through the Instagram Services or otherwise have the right to grant the license set forth in this section, (ii) the posting and use of your Content on or through the Instagram Services does not violate the privacy rights, publicity rights, copyrights, contract rights, intellectual property rights or any other rights of any person, and (iii) the posting of your Content on the Site does not result in a breach of contract between you and a third party. You agree to pay for all royalties, fees, and any other monies owing any person by reason of Content you post on or through the Instagram Services.
It seems they are saying that you must be sure that no copyrights are being breached and all royalties are paid before they use your photos in whatever way they wish without paying any royalties or reserving any rights. Audacious.
The Instagram Services contain Content of Instagram (“Instagram Content”). Instagram Content is protected by copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret and other laws, and Instagram owns and retains all rights in the Instagram Content and the Instagram Services. Instagram hereby grants you a limited, revocable, nonsublicensable license to reproduce and display the Instagram Content (excluding any software code) solely for your personal use in connection with viewing the Site and using the Instagram Services.
This reads as if they are licensing your photos back to you. What?! So you upload the photo, you have to accept that they can use it in whatever way they please, then they licence the it back to you to use in a limited capacity to reproduce what’s yours but only for personal use. Presumably they would frown upon you using Instagram for commercial purposes. Notice that it’s revocable: i.e. if they’re not happy, they can revoke the licence for you to use what’s yours.
The Instagram Services contain Content of Users and other Instagram licensors. Except as provided within this Agreement, you may not copy, modify, translate, publish, broadcast, transmit, distribute, perform, display, or sell any Content appearing on or through the Instagram Services.
That’s fair enough. Basically don’t use other people’s works.
Instagram performs technical functions necessary to offer the Instagram Services, including but not limited to transcoding and/or reformatting Content to allow its use throughout the Instagram Services.
Although the Site and other Instagram Services are normally available, there will be occasions when the Site or other Instagram Services will be interrupted for scheduled maintenance or upgrades, for emergency repairs, or due to failure of telecommunications links and equipment that are beyond the control of Instagram. Also, although Instagram will normally only delete Content that violates this Agreement, Instagram reserves the right to delete any Content for any reason, without prior notice. Deleted content may be stored by Instagram in order to comply with certain legal obligations and is not retrievable without a valid court order. Consequently, Instagram encourages you to maintain your own backup of your Content. In other words, Instagram is not a backup service. Instagram will not be liable to you for any modification, suspension, or discontinuation of the Instagram Services, or the loss of any Content.
Ok, delete if you feel it’s appropriate but I can’t help but be cynical and wonder what happens if you delete your content voluntarily.
This is what stopped me using Instagram. I love the photos you can create with it and I love the sharing aspect but the way it stomps all over your content meant that I couldn’t continue using it. Yes I know it’s free and you really do get what you pay for, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up what’s rightfully yours!
Instagram gets 1 out of 5 for walking all over their users.
Google+ looked to be a decent Flickr alternative, for those who don’t wish to pay Flickr’s membership fees for more storage and features. I uploaded many of my best photos to it before realising what it’s terms of service meant for its users.
Again, here is their policy in bold with my interpretation and comments in italics. I should point out that this is their new policy which will take effect from 1 March 2012.
Your Content in our Services
Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.
Excellent. Sums it up perfectly where Instagram uses flowery language.
When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.
Again, scary stuff. It’s still yours but they’ll use it like it’s theirs!
The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.
Ok, so they want to use your content to promote and improve their service. As it’s free, I can understand this.
This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.
Once you’ve uploaded something that’s it – they can use it how they like forever. I would hope that deleting your content makes it unusable to them, but who knows?
Google are taking over the world, one photo at a time, and as such get 2 out of 5 because you kind of expect this from a big corporation.
Facebook apparently has 10,000 more photos than the US Library of Congress. That’s quite a lot. It is the ultimate sharing experience, though as it’s not specifically designed for photos it’s not ideal for drawing the public to your content. Though you can allow your photos to be publically viewable, I can’t see that many will go trawling Facebook for creative and artistic inspiration as they might on Flickr or Google+.
Here is Facebook’s policy in bold with my interpretation and commments in italics.
Sharing Your Content and Information
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. In addition:
This is a good start. There are settings to allow you to control who sees your content and again yours is yours.
For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: 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 (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
This seems to be a common theme, doesn’t it? It’s slightly better here though because the license ends when you delete the content or your account.
When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
This is fine; anyone with a basic understanding of file management should be happy with this statement. Facebook will make many backups of their site content and can’t be expected to delete your content from previous copies of their servers.
Facebook applications shouldn’t violate your information and content but the individual application’s preferences and your privacy settings at least allow you to control how things are shared.
When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
No problems here. If you make it public, you know what you’re letting yourself in for.
We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use them without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).
A nice little earner, if your awesome suggestion gets used!
All in all, Facebook does it quite well. It’s the only site here without a specific photo sharing service; it’s more that photos are on their website and the sheer volume of users presents potential problems to anyone putting their work into the public domain. They deserve 3 out of 5 mostly for being better than Google+ and Instagram, but if you want to use it just for sharing or showcasing your photos, you could do better.
Is there an alternative? Well yes, but it all depends on what you want out of having your photos online. Do you want the full on sharing experience I described at the outset or do you just want an online home for your artistic works? If it’s the former, stick with Flickr as you have the most control of all these services. If you want complete control of everything you do and who can see, copy, access what then the best route is to get your own domain name, web hosting and CMS or blogging software. On my site here there are no copyright violations, no licences to (mis)use content and I know for certain what will happen if I decide to remove any content. It is the best of all worlds, except there’s no community. Damn.
Disclaimer: I am not a intellectual property lawyer, copyright specialist and do not have any expertise in this field. I am a hobbyist photographer with a passion for ensuring what’s mine stays mine. I have interpreted the copyright and usage policies and rules as shown on the websites of the above companies in my own manner and have reviewed them in the way I see that they apply to my photographs. If you have any queries on the individual companies’ policies either contact them direct or seek your own legal or specialist advice.