Luxludus Media » Blog

Masthead header

On 01 January 2015, Facebook is updating its ‘Terms of Service.’ Here is an excerpt relevant to photographers:

“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.” (Facebook Terms)

Most other social networking sites have identical or very similar verbiage, or even more far-reaching use rights within their terms. Let’s agree that “Facebook” shall be a placeholder for “social networking sites” in general below…

What does accepting these terms and participating in Facebook mean to photographers (or content creators in general; lets imply the broader category when we refer to ‘photographer/s’ below as well)? Let’s examine this sentence in detail:

“[…] 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) […]”

So, you actually grant Facebook use rights to your Intellectual Property (‘IP’). They are nice about it, they don’t ask for an exclusive license to use your IP – i.e. you can license its use to others, besides Facebook. You do allow them to transfer and sub-license your work – i.e. they can give others use rights of your IP, without need to notify or disclose such to you, and possibly for remuneration (cf. e.g. Flickr). And they can do this royalty-free and worldwide – they do not need to pay you for its use (even if they ’transfer or ‘sub-license’ its use for money), and they can do so anywhere in the world…

As you can see, especially if you read my ‘COPYRIGHT and your Photos’ series of blog posts earlier, as a photographer you give up a lot of control over your work to these sites! And to make matters worse, deleting your work off the service may not end their use rights (my emphasis below).

“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.”

Finally, Facebook reserves the right to modify its terms – and with them, possibly its use rights – from time to time; it is your responsibility to review those updates and assess their impact on your IP posted/published on the site. Be aware that you may not be able to do much about it, if at some point in the future a change in the terms might be unacceptable to you; you may delete your IP, but others who you shared it with may not…

Reading this, some of you may be thinking ‘so what?’ Facebook won’t sell (e.g. sub-license) my stuff, why would they!? Just be aware that, assuming it is true now that “they have no intent of selling your stuff,” if they change their mind, under these terms, they can. And for those who put their photographs on stock photography sites, be aware too that you cannot put photographs you shared on Facebook on the stock photography site for sale under an exclusive use rights license (typically pays more per license), since you already implicitly granted use rights to Facebook!

So does that mean we should not post photos on Facebook? Well, that depends… Once we are aware of the (potential) implications of posting IP on Facebook (from a copyright or use rights perspective), we need to weigh that against the potential benefits of posting. Maybe posting our photographs on Facebook drives sales (photos, or sessions)? Maybe it helps word of mouth marketing/advertising? We need to evaluate the positives of posting, and weigh them against the negatives of giving away certain rights, to ascertain whether or not it is worth participating in this social experiment.

For me personally, I choose carefully what IP I share on Facebook. Some photos (older or from P&S/iPhone) I upload directly (accepting their use rights for them), other photos, I only publish on my blog, and provide a link from Facebook to the blog. Since the IP is not published on Facebook, I am not giving away my rights to the IP – that is why you see many links on the Luxludus Media Facebook page. Finally, the subject of the photo may dictate how and where I publish as well – as a general rule, anything I shoot as part of my freelance press photography won’t get published on any social media sites…