QUESTION: I'm reluctant to share my images on Facebook and Flickr because I've heard that I will lose my copyrights to those images. Can you tell me the top 3 ways to share my photos and retain my copyrights? Sue
ANSWER: This is a situation that troubles a lot of photographers: the ease of stealing images from the internet via downloads or screen captures. With the caveat that I am not a lawyer (I've never even played one on TV), I'll share my understanding of the current state of things...
1) The only way to completely avoid worrying about image theft is to never publish any of your work online. Obviously, in this day and age, it's difficult to gain exposure and reach customers going this route.
2) Another alternative is to host all of your work on your own servers and website. You can then use social media to promote and link to your site, but never publish directly on any site other than your own. The downside to this approach is it requires you operate and maintain your own servers and website, which might be more technical or expensive than you want to do. This leads us to more practical alternatives.
3) Understand that using a free service to promote your photography does come with some risks. Since most companies are aware of the huge public backlash that comes over Terms of Service (TOS; see Facebook everytime it changes anything), they generally acknowledge that the user retains most or all of their copyright.
You do give the service the right use your images to the extent it needs to publish your images on-line, but generally retain all other rights. From time to time, a service will change its TOS, sometimes looking to monetize all the content it has collected, but these changes are usually reversed by the overwhelming negative response.
For me the bottom line is you can obsess over reading all the TOS (generally written by lawyers who get paid by the word) and carefully guarding all your work. Or you can accept that these services are providing you with a free way to market your business and there will be some risks associated with it.
My guidelines for publishing on Facebook or Flickr: I generally don't publish things I think are going to sell. Not that I publish poor quality work (never do that), but images that I have already sold and/or have limited commercial value to others. When I publish an engagement photo for example, I've already made the sale to the couple. Other than them or their family, who is really going to steal it?
I also limit my output image resolution (1024-2048) to something that will display well but not print large (this is getting more difficult with today's hi-res monitors). If you are going to use a watermark, please use something small and unobtrusive that doesn't take away from your images. Nobody wants to look at images with a giant COPYRIGHT 2013 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED written across the middle of it.
- Jeremy Verinsky, PHD Associate
Adds Derrick: I think Jeremy lays out a practical approach to this situation. I'll add that you can formerly copyright images. This would give you the right to recover damages from theft, especially if revenue was generated as a result. Also, you might want to take a look at the Digimarc service. But I want to echo Jeremy's position that you don't want to use all of your energy protecting work instead of creating it. Try to find a sane balance.
Readers, please chime in with your views.