Take note of social media terms of service

In an article titled “Reading the Fine Print,” printed in the Emerging Photographer, the National Press Photographers Association attorney Mickey Osterreicher explains to photographers the dangers of posting their work on social media platforms without reading all the terms of service. He uses the case of Agence France Presse vs. Morel for an example.

The judge in this case ruled that the terms of service of a social media website do not entitle third parties to use another’s photos. This is good news for photographers everywhere who want to protect the integrity of their work.

Photojournalist Daniel Morel photographed the aftereffects of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Afterwards he posted the photos to his Twitpic account. He also posted on Twitter that he had “exclusive” photos, but AFP took them and then licensed them to other companies such as Getty who then licensed them to media organizations like CBS, ABC and the Washington Post.

The fine print in the Twitpics and Twitter Terms of Service in 2010 specifically gave the social media sites the right to the work, although Twitter’s TOS stated “But what’s yours is yours—you own the content.” Although AFP’s argument was that Morel granted them an express license to use his images, the court found for Morel and noted, “By their express language, Twitter’s terms grant a license to use content only to Twitter and its partners. Similarly, Twitpic’s terms grant a license to use photographs only to ‘Twitpic.com or affiliated sites.’”

Although this case turned out in his favor, it illustrated why everyone who uses social media must take note of and understand what they are agreeing to when they click “Allow” or “Join” on the different social media sites. They have to take it as seriously as any other contract they sign and note which state’s laws govern those TOS’s because it may also impact their rights. With links to the Terms of Service or Rights and Responsibilities for the social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Twitpic, Osterreicher summarizes the terms which all give “non-exclusive, royalty-free and sub-licensable” permission to the platform subject to other terms listed.

Osterreicher concludes that photographers need better education about their rights as well as the proper enforcement of copyright violations in order to re-establish true values of photographers’ work. However, until then, photographers must make themselves aware of the photo rights they are giving away before they post on any social media sites.


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