Used to be that we would upload our photos to our computers and then email them out to friends and family. Then the photo files got to be larger and larger and it become annoying to send one photo at a time. Photo sharing sites were developed to help facilitate showing our friends and family photos of our kids and vacations. Today they’re both virtual albums for the casual photographer and portfolios for the professional. It simplified things. Somewhat.
But because some people believe that if it’s on the internet it’s free, they feel they can take any photo they can access and use it for whatever purpose. Unfortunately for many images that is not true. But the fact is that many people never actually read the Terms and Conditions of signing up for a photo sharing site. And in bypassing that critical step they may unknowingly agree to a royalty-free license for anyone to use, modify or distribute their image. You may own the copyright but it’s basically worthless.
Posting Photos on Photo Sharing Sites
The big two – Flickr and Picasa – do not, by its terms, take any actions as to the copyright or license of photos you upload. Both have clearly developed Creative Commons communities which allow users to set the terms and conditions by which their photos may be used by others.
One of the major sites that is not as protective of your copyright is PhotoBucket. There are other smaller photo sharing sites that have used similar terms. By uploading your images you are basically giving up your claim of copyright because you are authorizing such a broad and sweeping license. You’re not giving the right to sell the image but that’s about all you are retaining.
By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the Photobucket Services, you hereby grant to Photobucket and other users 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 marked “private” will not be distributed outside the Photobucket Services.
Have you ever read the Terms and Conditions of your photo sharing site? Probably not. I don’t blame you. The type is small, a bunch of legalese and we’re so used to just clicking ‘Agree’ and being on our way.
I am just using these three because they are the largest. I highly recommend checking out if your photo sharing site allows you to maintain creative control over your uploaded imaged.
Using Photos From Photo Sharing Sites
You’re looking for a photo so you go to Flickr, PhotoBucket or Picasa and look for something that fits your post. A quick search yields seemingly endless possibilities. You choose a photo and download it to your computer so you can use it in your post. Maybe you credit with a link to the page you found it on, maybe not. You might just put the username or profile name. Depends on how you’re feeling.
The fact that you don’t know much about the image should give you pause. At minimum you should believe that the person who posted the image has the copyright on the image. Barring any information to the contrary, the person who takes a photography will normally obtain copyright in that image. Did you check to see if there were any licenses on the image? Did you specifically search for a creative commons licensed image?
Taking an image from a photo sharing site can open you up to potential problem if you do not have the right to use the image. Not every photo is licensed for use on these sites. And most that do require, at minimum, some type of attribution. Knowing what type of attribution is required is important.
If you want to use images from photo sharing sites, know what you are and are not permitted to do. If the copyright holder is gracious enough to allow you to use the image under a creative commons license, follow their requirement.
If your copyrighted image is used without permission you’re not required to send a cease and desist before using other protections from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Furthermore, by using a copyrighted image you risk your site being taken down without warning. It may not seem fair, but a copyright holder has some very powerful tools to prevent unauthorized use of their images.
For other articles about the legal implications of being online, check out my series on blog law and online rights.
Disclosure: While I am a lawyer, I am not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship. This post is part of my Blog Law Series.