Photos on Facebook: some intellectual property concerns

Beth’s note about a tool for posting photos from Flickr to Facebook, and that tool’s lack of support for Creative Commons licensing got me thinking (and researching) Facebook’s terms of service. The news is not good.

Facebook’s Terms of Use state:

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.

According to

In plain English, this means you’re giving up copyright control of your material. If you upload a photo to Facebook, they can sell copies of it without paying you a cent. If you write lengthy notes (or import your blog posts!), Facebook can turn them into a book, sell a million copies, and pay you nothing.

This is incredibly disrespectful of my intellectual property rights. My photos are my photos. They’re not Facebook’s photos. I shouldn’t have to give up all my rights just to share photos with my friends on Facebook. That’s ridiculous.

For the curious: Flickr’s terms of service are much more respectful:

With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Service other than Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Service and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Service.

Bottom line?

I’m not going to be posting my photos to Facebook, and I would encourage others who care about intellectual property issues to do the same.

Also, I would be very careful about using a “Flickr to Facebook” tool to repost others’ photos to Facebook.

If I find a Creative Commons licensed photo on Flickr, I would clearly not have the right to repost it to a service whose TOS required granting it complete control over the the photo. If I understand correctly, the only photos from others which I might be able to safely post from Flickr to Facebook are those which are marked as being in the public domain.

Sigh. Such are the problems with walled gardens, I suppose.

11 thoughts on “Photos on Facebook: some intellectual property concerns”

  1. Great investigative piece, Jon. Facebook will take a lot of flame for this, and they sure won’t get any creative content from me. Gotta get the word out, after a careful look for myself.

  2. thanks so much for this, i have removed my important photos and warned my photographer friends, so, thanks.

  3. While I understand your concerns, it’s kind of a moot point. Facebook has never really been about sharing stuff like that. Any “important” pictures you upload to Facebook are cut down considerably in size/quality to begin with so it really isn’t a great way to share things of that nature anyway. And if you want people to be reading your blog updates, just link them there. It’s the hits you’re after right? YOU are choosing to put your material on their pages, if you want that bigger audience you have to go by their rules.

  4. Thanks Jon, and I would add that these same issues seem to apply to all written content on FB, so if you draft notes for a work on FB, or synch your blog to FB, you’re compromising your rights. I was actually looking for a way to export all my status updates, since that’s a kind of timeline and diary that I’d like to review in other forms than within FB, no easy good way for this though i figure you could rig up a feed pull that would get all this — it’s not readily obvious within FB. As i read ‘non-exclusive’ in their docs, i’m thinking that you still retain rights to publish in additional locations anything you write in FB, at least that right appears to remain intact. I am going to stop posting photos in FB.

  5. If a person posts a photo on facebook by writing a comment and posting a photo, and the posted photo is legally copyrighted, can the photo be:
    1. Legally downloaded
    2. Used for personal use
    3. Edited for personal use
    4. Edited for commercial use
    5. Can visible copyright on photo be edited out during the editing process.
    6. Is authorization required by submitting photographer to perform steps 1-5 listed above?

  6. I understand that FB can use any material on it’s site for anything it wants. My question is can other’s use it also? Could I, for example, publish or distribute something I find on FB, a photo, an article, a comment, a quote etc.? Please reply directly to my e-mail if possible. Thanks

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