Photo rights & Terms of Service
I take a lot of bird photos, and while I enjoy uploading them to eBird for inclusion in their scientific collection, I also like showing them off to friends. I’ve been uploading them to Flickr with a CC BY-SA-NC license, but since nobody browses Flickr anymore I was hoping to share them somewhere they’d get more attention. However, I also know social media sites are infamous for their aggressive rights grabs on user content, so I read several Terms of Service trying to figure out which was least-bad for uploading photos to, including Dreamwidth, Flickr, Twitter & Facebook.
The relevant sections of the ToS were surprisingly short.
By submitting Content to us for inclusion on the Website, you grant us a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content, solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting the contents of your account, including through downloadable clients and external feeds.
Flickr, owned by SmugMug (https://www.flickr.com/help/terms)
You retain all intellectual property rights in and to any User Content you post …. [You] grant SmugMug a perpetual, nonexclusive and royalty-free right to use the User Content … as is reasonably necessary in order to do the following: (1) provide the Services, including to display the User Content on the Services (2) …
You retain your rights to any Content you submit …. [Y]ou grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods now known or later developed (for clarity, these rights include, for example, curating, transforming, and translating).
You own the intellectual property rights … in any such content that you create and share on Facebook and the other Facebook Company Products you use. …. [W]hen you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights 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
Some of these are reasonable or expected:
- “worldwide” = the internet is everywhere
- “non-exclusive” = you can still grant licenses to other people or companies
- “royalty-free” = they’re not paying you for the photos
- “to use, copy, host, distribute” etc = they need to store & display the photos to run the service
Others are a lot worse:
- “transferable” = company can give the license that you gave to the company to someone else, and you have no say in it
- “sub-licensable” = company can license your content to another person or company, including charging money for it, and you have no say or right to the money
Of these four, Flickr & Dreamwidth are the best, with the smallest rights and strong limitations on them. Twitter has the ‘sublicense’ clause, and Facebook has both ‘transferable’ and ‘sub-licensable’, both of which are pretty bad. This doesn’t surprise me - Flickr is about photo sharing from people that might want to sell their photos and Facebook is rife with other problems - but still interesting to see that reflected in the ToS.
I ended up continuing to upload my photos to Flickr under a Creative Commons licence, and linking them from Facebook, relying on the preview functionality.