Question from Darla: Hi Rick. I hope you can answer a question about Facebook for me.
I’m an amateur photographer but I’m hoping to go pro before too long.
I regularly upload some of my best photos to my Facebook profile to get feedback from my friends and other photographers.
I was chatting with one of my photographer friends the other day and she said once I upload a photo to Facebook they automatically become the copyright holder of that photo and they can do anything they want to with it.
First of all, is that true? And if it is, will deleting my Facebook account also delete the photos and return the copyright for them back to me?
This really has me upset so I hope you can give me an answer ASAP. Thanks so much in advance!
Rick’s answer: Darla, it appears that your friend has given you a mixture of correct and incorrect information.
I’ll discuss the incorrect info first…
When you take a picture you automatically become the copyright holder of that photo the instant it is taken.
According to this page on the US Copyright Office’s website you will own the copyright to that photo until the day you pass away. What’re more, your heirs will own the copyright to it for 70 years after your death.
Of course you can sell (or otherwise transfer) the copyright for any photo to a third party at any time, but simply uploading a photo to your Facebook profile doesn’t affect that photo’s copyright in any way.
In other words, YOU still own the copyright to every photo that you upload to Facebook IF you owned the copyright before it was uploaded.
How do we know this? Because Facebook states it on this page of their Terms of Service (TOS). Here is the relevant passage:
“You own the content you create and share on Facebook and the other Facebook products you use, and nothing in these Terms takes away the rights you have to your own content. You are free to share your content with anyone else, wherever you want.”
That, in a nutshell, explains the “incorrect” part of the info your photographer friend shared with you. Now, let’s discuss the part she got right…
When you upload a photo to Facebook’s website that does give Facebook the right to USE that photo in pretty much any way they see fit as long as they don’t share it with people who aren’t allowed to see it (based upon your privacy settings).
For example, if your privacy settings allow the Public (i.e. anyone on Facebook) to view your photos then Facebook is allowed to share them with everyone on Facebook via advertisements and other common uses as they see fit.
What’s more, your “Public” photos can be also be shared with third parties outside of Facebook if those entities support Facebook in some way.
However, if your privacy settings only allow your Facebook friends to see your photos, Facebook won’t share them with anyone else on Facebook. They also won’t share “Friends Only” photos with third parties because doing so would circumvent your privacy settings.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that I am NOT an attorney so the info I provide in this post should not be considered legal advice. That being said, what I’ve stated above is my understanding of the situation based upon my reading of Facebook’s TOS.
I strongly recommend that you read the TOS yourself and/or consult with an attorney if you want to be sure your rights to your own photos are fully protected.
Here is the entire relevant passage if you’d rather not click through and read read the TOS yourself:
“3. The permissions you give us
We need certain permissions from you to provide our services:
Permission to use content you create and share: You own the content you create and share on Facebook and the other Facebook Products you use, and nothing in these Terms takes away the rights you have to your own content. You are free to share your content with anyone else, wherever you want. To provide our services, though, we need you to give us some legal permissions to use that content.
Specifically, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to
host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings). This means, for example, that if you share a photo on Facebook, you give us permission to store, copy, and share it with others (again, consistent with your settings) such as service providers that support our service or other Facebook Products you use.
You can end this license any time by deleting your content or account. You should know that, for technical reasons, content you delete may persist for a limited period of time in backup copies (though it will not be visible to other users). In addition, content you delete may continue to appear if you have shared it with others and they have not deleted it.”
As you can see, Facebook is pretty clear about what they can and will do with the photos you upload to their site.
And now, one final note concerning your question about what would happen if you were to delete your Facebook account…
As per the TOS snippet quoted above, if you delete your Facebook account your uploaded photos will be removed and they will no longer be used in any way by Facebook.
Bottom line: Facebook does not assume the copyright to your photos when you upload them to their site, but they can (and do) use your photos pretty much any way they see fit as long as that use doesn’t circumvent the choices you made in your privacy settings.
Bonus tip: All of the above being said, when it comes right down to it, true privacy really doesn’t exist on Facebook. This post explains why.
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