Controlling Image Sharing

Posted on 10/1/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Frans Lemmens has a problem. One of his clients operates an iPad travel magazine called TRVL Magazine. They use a lot of his images. They encourage readers to share the images found in their app on Facebook. Frankly, readers would probably do this anyway whether they are encouraged to do so, or not. Also, in order to market their app this activity is probably critical for TRVL.

Given that Facebook has changed its terms-of-service in a way that allows Facebook to sell any images posted on its site, Frans wrote asking what I thought he should do? His collection contains the kind of images everyone will want to use.

Realistically, I’m not sure if there is much of anything Frans can do to protect his images from unauthorized use. If the image is online someone is going to grab it and post it somewhere else.

I don’t think Facebook will bother to sell his images in spite of the fact that they have claimed the right to do so. This would go against their whole concept that “everything should be free.” It also seem that what little money they might be able to generate from such sales would probably not cover their costs.

I think the approach Facebook will take is to encourage its users to use any image they can find on Facebook to create ads they then post on Facebook. The revenue they can earn from the ads is what will interest Facebook.

The company already has an agreement with Shutterstock that allows Facebook users to create ads using any Shutterstock image. There is no charge for these uses. In this way they are teaching users that images should be free. Facebook has agreed to pay Shutterstock a little money every time one of their images is used, but it is unclear how much.

It is a short leap to then tell Facebook users that they can use any image they can find on Facebook in Facebook ads. With the non-Shutterstock supplied images on Facebook it is impossible to determine the identity of the image creator since so many of the images are grabbed from somewhere else. There is also no easy way of knowing whether the creator wants to license rights to use his images, or whether he is happy just to give them away.

The other thing that seems likely to happen is that once Facebook users get comfortable using free images for their Facebook ads they’ll think, “why don’t I place this same ad on other sites.”

Asking TRVL to stop encouraging readers to share images, might help, but since sharing has become such a important activity for most Internet users they will probably do it anyway. Also, TRVL probably needs the exposure.

We are rapidly getting to the point where the only money anyone will get from the images they produce will come from a customer that hires them to produce images. If  images are shot on speculation and posted almost anywhere online -- other than a password protected site -- the creator has probably lost all control over their use.

What photographers need to worry about now is someone finding one of their pictures online, entering it in a photo contest as their own work and winning a lot of money. (See this story in PetaPixel.)

At least the fallout from using one of Lemmens travel images in an ad is unlikely to cause the trauma that the Vietnamese owner of, an online dating company, caused when he grabbed an image of a teenage girl he found through a Google search. He then posted it in an ad on Facebook with the headline “Find Love in Canada.” Unfortunately, this woman committed suicide a few months before this ad appeared. Allegedly she had been gang raped in 2011 and photos of her were circulated online in a cyber bullying campaign. When the ad appeared her loved ones were forced to relive the trauma of her death all over again. (See the NYTimes story.)

It won’t be long before it will be risky to post any people pictures online, and certainly not pictures of family or friends.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Leslie Hughes Posted Oct 4, 2013
    Jim - Facebook or Instagram by claiming rights to any content posted, are preparing for changing ad conditions in the digital age where they can offer content free to advertisers. The money they receive will be on clicks and conversions. This could be huge depending on the advertiser.

    This example is a great example of why photographers and artists and all of us dealing with content should be VERY concerned. Frans is basically losing control over his content. This is going to have to be tested in the courts. I don't see how a company can claim rights to any content posted knowing their users will post content to which they don't have rights.

    I would love to hear from a legal perspective. I also believe that PACA will be discussing this at the annual conference, along with ASMP.

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