The TwitPic Backlash – Are Social Networking Sites Selling Your Photos Without Paying You?

UPDATE: The ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) is advising photographers not to use TwitPic as of this week. They too are recommending MobyPicture to share photos from your Twitter posts.

It seems like never more than a few weeks go by before Facebook has made some sort of privacy change and we all have to shift through a million menus to turn off the new “feature,” or otherwise allow our information to be used in who knows what way. Remember, you’re not Facebook’s customer, you’re their inventory.

This time however, it’s the people behind TwitPic that are causing an outcry. Like many social networking sites, you give up some of your privacy in exchange for free access to their technology. In many cases it’s a fair tradeoff. But in others, as the Tom Waits song Step Right Up goes, “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.”

If you happen to have entered into such an agreement with Facebook or Twitter, Flickr, TwitPic, yFrog, Instagram and many others and you upload photographs or other creative work it’s important to read that small print once in a while to see what else you might be giving away.

This week TwitPic changed its TOS (Terms of Service) to state that although anyone who uploads a photo to their site, the photographer retains their copyright. However TwitPic can, and this is straight from their TOS agreement:

You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic. However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

Wow. That’s a pretty far reach as far as I am concerned. In the photography industry, that’s called, “You have given TwitPic unlimited usage rights to your photograph, anywhere and forever.”

We photographers don’t like that very much.

Delete, delete, delete. Cancel Account by clicking here.

And it appears I’m not the only one. Twitter lit up the last few days with examples of people deleting and bailing out of TwitPic.

But TwitPic is not the only social networking site that seems to be making a pre-emptive land grab.

Do you use Facebook (of course you do),  yFrog, Instagram, Flickr (owned by Yahoo), Lockerz (formerly Plixi), Color or picplz? These sites all state that, like TwitPic, you own the copyright to your photos, but some contain language that allows use of your images in any way they wish, forever.

Copyright ownership and Usage Rights are two completely different things, however. And it’s important to know the difference.

When you make a photograph, at the moment you click the shutter, you own the copyright. You have more protection if you then register your photos with the US Copyright Office, but the copyright is automatically yours at the moment of creation.

Professional photographers license Usage Rights to their images for hundreds or thousands of dollars per image. It’s how we pay the bills. TwitPic and others take that money right out of your hands if someone wants to use an image you’ve uploaded to Twitpic. They pay TwitPic and you get… well.. nothing.

So what to do when you want to upload a photo to share? MobyPicture is one site that seems to be going in the opposite direction. They updated their TOS agreement this week to amplify the difference:

Content Ownership
All rights of uploaded content by our users remain the property of our users and can in no means be sold or used by Mobypicture or affiliated third party partners without consent from the user.

Much better. I’ll be sending my Twitter photos to MobyPicture in the future.

The lesson here is that every social networking site has different Terms of Service and they should be looked over every once in a while to make sure nothing has changed that might affect what you upload and how it can be used by these sites.

Or you can do what I do and not upload any of my work that I care about- even to my Fan Page on Facebook. I instead use links back to my blog or website, which I have total control over.

And it’s not just the social networking sites that are changing their TOS. Getty Images just changed theirs as well.

I’ll blog about that next and how it might affect photographers.

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