AMITIAE - Saturday 29 November 2014
Cassandra: Ownership of Images on Social Networking Sites - A Murky World with Little User Benefit
By Graham K. Rogers
For some, the lines have blurred to such an extent that it is becoming less desirable to use certain social networking sites, particularly when copyright of images is concerned.
Over the past year (or more), there have been several concerns raised about privacy and the way these social networks - especially Facebook - keep moving the goalposts. I despair of waking up some mornings only to find that the pages and links are set up in a different way; or that one week images are linked to the postings I make, while the next, I have no choice; or advertisements - advertisements I pay Facebook for - may or may not be allowed because of the content of screenshots I use.
That last problem came to a head when I was writing my series on System Preferences in OS X: the panels used in System Preferences all have text on them, so I was not able to advertise. Now I do not purchase Facebook advertising - small as it was - at all.
However, Twitter itself has some let-outs in the user agreements that we all click on to be allowed to use the service. The content is Twitter's but the notes in the Terms of Service, "5. Your Rights" include the words, "you own your Content (and your photos are part of that Content). However, this is followed by part of the agreement (as opposed to an included tip): Such additional uses . . . may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content. . . ."
I have debated with my students (and others online) about the agreements we are required to click on, and the consensus is that most click without reading. I do read these occasionally: Apple has several license agreements when signing up with an iPhone or iPad; and some here are not in a language I can read, so I am forced to agree with something I cannot understand (the English agreements are online somewhere: if I had the inclination and time to track them down).
Almost every online service has terms and conditions that simply require the user to click on a button to accept. As with the iPhone and iPad, this is part of the setup process and we click for the convenience of the moment: with little regard for what we might have let ourselves in for.
Specifically, in the Facebook user agreement (2. Sharing Your Content and Information), item 1 states, "
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.
As a note, there are also specific provisions for those of us outside the USA and we agree to the point: "You consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States."
This has also reared its head again with regard to Facebook content, but we are told (Jonathan Atteberry, How Stuff Works) that Mark Zuckerberg "insists that Facebook has no intention of selling users' pictures for any reason, though he admits that Facebook needs to work on clarifying the language to that effect." (my italics). History is full of fine words, signifying nothing (especially when money is involved).
This rumour was quite enough for a photographer who lives locally. This Pulitzer Prize winner, who has retired but still sells his work, sent email to his friends recently, explaining that before the risk of having Facebook sell his content (they do own it, according to the licence agreement), he will be closing down his activities on the social network.
I also spoke to a photographer in the south of Thailand who dumped his Facebook accounts a while back for similar reasons: of course, he may not realise that the content already posted still belongs to Facebook. It is retained, even though accounts are deleted.
A fair outline of the Flickr situation is available in an article on Forbes, by Paul Monckton. As is made clear in an item by Richard Nieva on CNET, this scheme applies to those images that photographers using the site had intended to be free: "Creative Commons - a collection of photos and writing that creators have deemed free to use, with various restrictions". The article adds that for "prints of other photos not on Creative Commons, photographers will get a 51 percent cut." That 51% presumes there is to be no creative accounting.
I intend to keep my Facebook and Twitter accounts because they are so useful for communication, I plan to reduce quality of any images that I upload (I would sell them if there were any takers). As for Flickr, I am beginning to re-assess my need to be associated with such an account
The BBC did later issue an apology in setting the record straight, but in the text there was the comment that "where there is a strong public interest and often time constraints, such as a major news story like the recent Norway attacks or rioting in England, we may use a photo before we've cleared it." (Chris Hamilton, BBC).
In other words, if we want it, we will take it anyway.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.
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