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Your Photos and Social Media Rights Grabs

When you upload photos to Facebook are you giving away your copyright?

There is a lot of misinformation out there about what happens to your photographs—specifically your rights to your photographs—when you share them on social media. Whether you’re uploading photos to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, all social media platforms require users to grant permission to publish that work. And sometimes those terms of service make it sound like tech companies are planning to take your copyright and sell your photos. 

Thankfully most of what you read about such rights grabs simply isn’t true. And as professional photographer and Sony Artisan Miguel Quiles explains in the video below, when you see social posts citing scary new rules for photographers with suggestions about what you can do to prevent your photos being stolen, understand that this is largely much ado about nothing. 

In the video Quiles outlines a common “copypasta” (think chain letter for the 21st century) that’s been circulating on social media for a decade. Copying and pasting it on your own social media, the letter says, will prevent Facebook from stealing your photos. 

“Don’t forget, tomorrow starts the new Facebook rule where they can use your photos!” That’s how the messages typically begin, before going on to explain how you can give notice that Facebook is “strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents.” 

It sure sounds scary. But what people seem to be misunderstanding is that any terms that Facebook—or any social media, for that matter—puts forth regarding the usage of your photographs is simply about what those platforms need to perform their basic functions. Put another way, Facebook’s terms of service require you to grant them permission to share your photographs when you use their service to, you guessed it, share your photographs. 

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Given the plausibility that a big tech company would prey on us little guys, it’s understandable that these terms of service sound like rights grabs. But in fact they are fairly benign agreements that let companies distribute our content the way we ask them to. When you share a photo on Facebook, you give Facebook permission to store, copy and share it with others.

“Just by signing up and using Meta products like Facebook and Instagram,” Quiles explains, “you agree to let them use your information, images and everything else for a variety of different purposes based on your privacy settings. The bigger question in all of this is around copyright. Who owns the copyright to your images when you post them on Facebook? In short, copyright law says that when you take a photograph you become the copyright owner of the image created… You hold exclusive rights to reproduce the photograph, display the image in a public space, distribute the photo, and create derivatives of the image.”

Of course, if you don’t want to grant Facebook or other social media platforms any rights to distribute your photos, there is one thing to do that works 100% of the time: Don’t share your photos on Facebook or other media platforms. Otherwise, when you upload photos you’re agreeing to their terms. 

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