Who Owns The Rights?

Posted on 1/23/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Have you gotten tired of reading all the “terms and conditions” on the social media sites? Or have you just given up and assumed they are OK. If you really read (and understand) all the terms on these sites is there any time left to engage on the sites? Is there any time left to take pictures?

Scoopshot has taken the time to read the small print and produce a “Social Media 411” on the privacy policies of several of the favorite social media platforms. If you have ever considered posting one of your personal or professional images on a social media platform this article is well worth a read.

Social Media 411: Who Owns Your Images?

As Yahoo Inc, Flicker’s owner, starts selling canvas prints from photos uploaded to the site (with all profits being kept by Yahoo), it brings into question who owns the rights to these images?

We all do it. When the endless list of policies pops up, asking you to agree to the terms and conditions, we skim to the bottom bla bla bla and click accept without much thought. But reading the small print could do you a lot of favors in the long run. Would you happily upload personal images if you knew they could be taken and used by other companies or websites?

Here’s the lowdown on the privacy policies of the most popular social media platforms for uploading pics.


Facebook has a license to use your content in any way it sees fit, including transferring or sub-licensing rights of your content to another company or organization. As well as this, Facebook’s license does not end upon the deactivation or deletion of your account, oh no, instead, it means that any tagged photos, videos or status will remain under Facebook’s license until all those who’ve interacted with the content have also deactivated, deleted or untagged the content. So if you’ve been tagged in a photo or status, it will remain under Facebook’s license until all tags and accounts associated with the status/photo/video are removed also. Uh-huh.


A photo posted to Twitter remains your intellectual property, but if you accept Twitter’s terms you allow them “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense)”. Essentially, this gives Twitter almost total control over your images and the ability to do pretty much anything with them. As well as photo content, Twitter’s terms give it broad scope to distribute, use and change any written or video media posted through Twitter, including those that Twitter has not yet thought of or developed.


Instagram caused a stir in 2012 leading lots of users to delete their accounts, when proposed changes to its Terms of Service would have allowed the photo-sharing app to sell images to advertisers without compensating users… which obviously didn’t go down well.  After a huge backlash from Instagram users, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom was forced to release a blog post stating, “we do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.”

The policy now reads, “our Privacy Policy explains how we and some of the companies we work with collect, use, share and protect information in relation to our mobile services, web site, and your choices about the collection and use of your information.” So really, it doesn’t sound too much better?


This one really takes the biscuit. Yahoo’s terms state “for photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo Services, you give to Yahoo the worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, publicly perform and publicly display the User Content on the Yahoo Services.” Anything else you’d like to do with it Yahoo?

It’s safe to say that once you upload an image to the internet its out there in public view and these images could essentially be used by anyone, not just social media apps (though a quick thanks for letting us know you might…). So does the chance that an image might be ‘used or changed or distributed’ by these companies put you off uploading your images? Or is the buzz of getting 14 ‘likes’ too much to pass up? We want to know where you stand on this one because, personally, we think that protecting your image rights matters.


Before you freak out, remember that you own the rights to the photos and videos you submit to Scoopshoot, up until the point at which you sell them, so no worries there - phew!

Copyright © 2015 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Martin Skultety Posted Jan 24, 2015
    Hello Jim,

    thanks for this interesting article. It is clear that if you upload any of your images onto any of these social media sites, you basically give away broad non-exclusive rights and lose control over the distribution of your content.

    But that's not really the main concern for image professionals such as photographers and photo agencies.

    What we see happening all the time is that THIRD PARTIES upload our content and nobody seems to care about it. It would be interesting to get an update on the legal constellation here. So for example, if any internet user uploads images that he has not obtained rights for, can the social media sites still claim to have a license to re-distribute them? If not, who's actually infringing the copyright here and how can it effectively be enforced?

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Jan 24, 2015
    Barbara Brundage suggested we add Pinterest’s TOS to this list.

    Here are the most egregious sections:

    b. How Pinterest and other users can use your content

    You grant Pinterest and its users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using the Pinterest Products. Nothing in these Terms shall restrict other legal rights Pinterest may have to User Content, for example under other licenses. We reserve the right to remove or modify User Content for any reason, including User Content that we believe violates these Terms or our policies.

    c. How long we keep your content

    Following termination or deactivation of your account, or if you remove any User Content from Pinterest, we may retain your User Content for a commercially reasonable period of time for backup, archival, or audit purposes. Furthermore, Pinterest and its users may retain and continue to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute any of your User Content that other users have stored or shared through Pinterest.

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Jan 24, 2015
    Justin Brinson passed along this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6A1Lt0kvMA that explains how social media is enabling people to make money off of other people’s images. Basically the same thing is happening with still images as well.

    Brinson said, “Go on Facebook or any social media site and see how many times a link takes you to a site that has for example top 10 XYZ or top 20 pictures of XYZ… Sites are taking (stealing) images on the web, from an editorial context and displaying them on a site that encourages people to click though all of them and on EVERY page is a series of ads that they get paid for displaying, so in essence they are making money for you viewing a collection of images they stole and put on this list."

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