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Photo Copyrights and Social Media

Federal law holds that copyright to a photograph is owned by the photographer who snapped it. He or she alone has the right to display, copy and distribute an image and to license or transfer those rights to others.  The only other person with commercial rights associated with an image is the human subject of that image. Publicity rights allow a person to receive payment for commercial use of his or her likeness.

But if you’re not careful, you could compromise your own rights with the click of a mouse. Statistics show that in 2014, social media users uploaded a staggering 1.8 billion images to Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, and WhatsApp each day. And with each upload, someone’s rights were compromised or violated.

As a photographer you retain copyright to your images, even when you post them on social media sites. However, in posting them, you also grant these sites a license to use your images for commercial gain free of charge and to license them to others. In most any other case, such use would be deemed a violation of your copyright and your subject’s right of publicity.

Here’s what you agree to by joining and uploading photos and other content to the most popular social media sites:

  • Facebook: 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.
  • Twitter: You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to provide, promote, and improve the Services and to make Content submitted to or through the Services available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use. Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.
  • Instagram: Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service's Privacy Policy, available here, including but not limited to sections 3 ("Sharing of Your Information"), 4 ("How We Store Your Information"), and 5 ("Your Choices About Your Information"). You can choose who can view your Content and activities, including your photos, as described in the Privacy Policy.

Keep in mind that the copyright notice that occasionally makes its way around the internet wherein you publicly disavow any rights associated with your content being held by social media sites is bogus. Contrary to popular belief, such a statement does not trump the terms of agreement that you accept simply by joining and continuing to use these sites.

Bottom line, your photos and other content are yours alone. However, if you intend to commercialize it, think twice about posting it to social media. To fully protect your content and secure the right to sue for unauthorized use, contact a copyright attorney with Orlando's Daniel Law Offices at 866-37PATENT.

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