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Give up your rights or leave!


Here, take my property and use it for your own monetary gains!

Would you walk up to a stranger in the street, hand them your favourite photographs and say, “you’re free to use these for anything you like”?

No? Well, if you have ever posted a photo to a social site such as Facebook, this is exactly what you are doing. And you’re not just handing them to anyone. You’re giving them to a company that currently has a vested interest in finding new ways to produce more cash flow for itself.

Giving up your rights

More and more individuals and companies are using social media methods to broadcast their brand. But exactly what are you giving up when you post images on social sites?

Concerning user uploaded content, Facebook’s policy states:

“By posting user content to any part of the site, you automatically grant … an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence … 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. … Facebook does not assert any ownership over your user content.”

While arguably it is written this way so that Facebook can use content in promotional ways without fear of liability, the clause is written in such a way that Facebook could use the images as a stock photo library if it wanted. Facebook are telling you they can do pretty much anything they like with your images and videos, although ownership technically remains with you.

This isn’t just for images and photos. If you’re posting a series of blog articles or “wall” posts that are attracting a lot of attention, Facebook have the right to correlate these and make their own book! You may delete this content but Facebook retain the right to make copies of the content you have uploaded, and these copies will remain.

The really scary thing is that Facebook “reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change, modify, add, or delete portions of these Terms of Use at any time without further notice”. Blimey! Would you go into any other contract in business knowing that at any point, the other party could completely change their terms and conditions?? Any section that details whatever rights you may have left … could be deleted in a heartbeat without your consultation.

Some users have already taken Facebook to court over use of images. Facebook photos of people who have been in the news have appeared in newspapers with “Photos courtesy of Facebook” underneath.

Not on Facebook? Your photos may be.

Many people are unaware their images are hosted by Facebook. Some blogs allow you to upload photos but use Facebook’s hosting service on Facebook’s terms. You can tell if your photo is hosted on Facebook by right clicking the image and checking for the domain names of “”, or “”, etc.

Be aware that sites like Facebook are not free services. You are paying for their services with your personal information and content. Facebook are currently dreaming up new ways to exploit this information in order to make them money. And remember that the terms and conditions that exist when you first sign up may well change at any point without your direct notification.

What can be done?

Really, nothing can be done if you’re using Facebook. By using their service, you are agreeing to their terms. In this relationship, they are the big guys, you are the little guy. If you want to continue to use Facebook, you can try contacting them to voice your concerns.

For the rest of us, there are sites that specialise in photo sharing for professionals and so make their range of privacy options well known, easy to understand and easy to change. Flickr have an extensive range of privacy options and take care to protect the rights of their members. Try right-click-saving an image posted by a user who has fully reserved rights. You’ll simply download a “spaceball.gif” image of nothingness.

To cope with new technology and increased access to online imagery, Flickr have partnered with Creative Commons to create a license specifically for those who want to share their work with people for non-commercial use only. The sandy image on this page was taken by me, Mark Lincoln, and uploaded to Flickr using the Creative Commons license. This gives people the use to show this image for non-commercial means only, and they must credit the image to myself.

Either way, when signing up to any online service, be sure to check the terms and conditions to ensure your rights are protected … before you click “I agree”!

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