To post or not to post? That is the question.
This was going to be a comment in reply to Damian in our “comments” area, but we decided it really warrants its own article.  Basically, the question is, “Just what rights do you give up in those social media Terms of Service (TOS) agreements”?

To be fair and in an ideal world, social media sites generally do need your permission to have your image on their servers and to have subcontractors possess those images so they can be seen on their network(s). Great. Then why not ask for just those rights? Instead, the social media site’s lawyers do what we call an “over reach”.  Their lawyers – and they have lots of them – advise their clients to get many more rights than their clients reasonably would need. There is no “down side” to giving or taking, such advice.

Typically, social media sites do not state that the rights they are getting are only for specified purposes. They write the terms to their “agreements” in such a way, that they obtain for themselves the right to use your images as they see fit, for any purpose, INCLUDING selling those rights to third parties without your knowledge, consent and certainly without you getting any money.

We would have no problem if the rights they wanted where broad enough to cover their needs to service their sites. That’s easy enough to write, in plain English understandable by all. But we know from their actions (like stripping out metadata) that they see your images as content they can leverage. In other words, sell, use or license them for real money and not pay you a cent. So a majority of social media sites, take a bucket full of your rights so they can make money on what you have created and produced.

Think that’s far fetched? Look at the Huffington Post business model. Arianna Huffington made many millions of dollars by selling her site which was built and “kept fresh” by bloggers and photographers providing free content daily.  Although Ms. Huffington made tens of millions of dollars, the photographers and journalists upon whose work she cashed in, received zero, zip, nada. Instagram or Facebook’s valuations, IPOs etc. are in the millions/billions dollar ranges. What they are selling are shares of stock in a company whose inventory and assets was/is provided to them free of charge.

So if  I, as a homeowner living near a stadium, offered “free parking” on game days, with the open stipulation that I could use any parked car for my personal use and people actually parked their cars there, why wouldn’t I use those cars for my trips to the market or beyond? (Rolls Royces preferred by the way). Customers were told the rules and agreed to them. Saves me a car payment, gas, and insurance. Great deal for me. And hey, you got some free parking, didn’tja?

In the end, do we tell people to not post anything? Jack knows that such would be foolish and like spitting into the wind to tell photographers that.  Where you are in your career helps to determine how you want to use social media.. Jack as an established photographer with many years in the industry doesn’t need to promote his work on social sites at this point in his career. A photographer in the beginning or middle of his/her career, or for a photographer who photographs high school seniors and social media is where their clients live, then social media might be a critical marketing tool.  For best results, social media should be used wisely.

When Jack posts anything (but he’s more likely to put it on his website and then link to it rather than upload to a social site), his number one rule is to have everything registered before it’s on any social site. With the very rare exception of personal happy snaps, where time might be a factor and the images are something he wants to share, for whatever silly reason. But as Ed can tell you from the cases he gets, even happy snaps on the Internet have been appropriated (stolen) for commercial advertising.   Successful advertising can and often does, use mediocre or even lousy, photography.

We are not intentionally being almost as vague as the social sites TOSs themselves.  Rather Jack’s best advice is be cautious, really read the TOSs, especially regarding the licensing of  rights. Be cautious, and be willing to say “no” sometimes. But always, always, register all your images. If Ed the lawyer had his way, no photographer would ever post anything ever unless it is has been registered – no exceptions.