ASMP commissioned attorney Chris Reese to undertake a review of the Terms of Service (TOS) of six social media sites and to prepare findings and recommendations. The sites included in his assessment are Facebook, Photobucket, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. This report presents recommended best practices, considerations, common terms used, and hypothetical situations photographers may face when images are posted on social networking sites.
Summary of Best Practices
Decide why you are considering posting your images on a social networking site. Do you want a sample of your work to reach the largest possible audience for free? Are you trying to advertise your most prized photographs in the hope of selling a few limited prints? Would you mind if people made unauthorized copies?
Browse through the site to get an idea of its functionality. Are there settings you can choose which will provide you with some control over who sees your images? Are there settings you can choose which provides roadblocks to the easy-copying of your original image? View images posted by other photographers and see if it is possible to copy the photos and at what quality. Find out if there are ways to track who is seeing or copying or re-posting your images.
After reading the TOS and understanding the functionality of a site, including any attempts to provide copy protection, decide whether you have chosen the right social networking site. Every site handles these issues differently, sometimes markedly so. If you aren’t sure about it, consider other sites before making a decision.
Once you decide that you want to post images, we recommend embedding each image with copyright, contact, and other information. This can be done in Photoshop. However, you should know that some sites, such as Facebook and MySpace strip that information as a result of the software they use to manipulate and post files. You might also want to consider adding an identifying watermark to your images. If one of the reasons you are posting images is to use the site as a marketing tool, then providing an identification that stays with an image might be a good idea. Others might have the right to re-post images or have the ability to copy the image and use it on other sites or distribute via e-mail. If the image goes viral, it would be nice to have your name attached to it.
If you don’t want people to have copies of high quality images, you can also consider posting only small, low resolution versions of your work.
After posting your images, make it a point to review the TOS regularly to see if the terms have changed. Also, if available, check the data on how many people are viewing your images or spreading the word to others. This will help you decide if your initial reasons for posting the images continue to make sense.
If you become aware of misuse of your images, contact the site and begin the procedure described in the site’s copyright violation policy. If warranted, take legal action.