4 Things Every Photographer Should Know About Protecting Images on Social Networks

Thrive with caution on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ ...and whatever's next

Professional photographers as well as many “weekend warriors” and serious amateur shooters have a love/hate relationship with the Internet, espeically on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tubmlr, Google+, and Pinterest. On the one hand, it's a great way to display your work to potential clients, generate print orders, and promote your business. On the other hand, it has never been easier for your copyrighted material to be used without your permission. All you need to know is how to right-click.social media copyright tumblr twitter google flickr facebook pinterestThe rapid rise of social networks—Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest among the biggest ones—has made it easier than ever to get your name out there, but it has also allowed copyright infringement to get out of control, according to many photographers.

The Pinterest Conundrum (UPDATED AS OF 10:00am, 3/26/12)


Last year, when Facebook updated its terms of service in a manner that many felt amounted to a rights grab, users screamed in protest until Facebook made changes that deleted the egregious language. In the past few months, Pinterest, one of the fastest-growing social networks at the moment, has come under the spotlight for similarly controversial terms.

For the uninitiated, Pinterest is like a virtual bulleten board. You “pin” things that you find that interest or inspire you—photographs, sayings, products—just as you might with a personal bulletin board. You can create multiple boards built around different areas of interest. That's all fine. The problem (as far as copyrighted material issues are concerned) is, your bulletin board can be seen by your friends, who may then choose to re-pin the stuff you've pinned. If your photo goes viral and gets pinned like crazy, a lot of people will see your image, but they may not know that you were the creator of that image.


Most users don't know to attribute the original user (even though they are required to do so in the densely-worded Terms of Service), and Pinterest, as well as most other social networks, strips out meta data that might have your identifying information.


Here's the part of Pinterest's Terms of Service that, until today, raised red flags around the Internet (note the underlined section):


Subject to any applicable account settings you select, you grant us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify (e.g., re-format), re-arrange, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest for the purposes of operating and providing the Service(s) to you and to our other Users. Nothing in these Terms shall restrict Pinterest’s rights under separate licenses to User Content. Please remember that the Pinterest Service is a public platform, and that other Users may search for, see, use, and/or re-pin any User Content that you make publicly available through the Service.


Pinterest's terms of service also pin responsibility for copyright infringement on the user (how many users really read the terms, and are aware of this?) while the site's structure—in fact, its entire purpose—seems to encourage such copyright infringement. This is what is being termed the Pinterest Conundrum.


A Win for the Good Guys: Pinterest Changes its TOS!


With Pinterest's rapidly-growing popularity, a growing number of businesses are embracing it and other social networks in order to attract customers,  so the issue of copyright infringement needs to be resolved. Fortunately ASMP and other organizations that support photographers' rights reported that they would work working with Pinterest to improve their terms of service and today, it bore fruit. On March 16, ASMP posted the following on its Facebook page:

“Yesterday, ASMP in conjunction with the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA) had a conversation with a representative of Pinterest regarding concerns over Pinterest Terms of Service and other intellectual property issues. Pinterest was receptive to our comments; they went on to say that they have great respect for creators and their content and are eager to make Pinterest a valuable tool for everyone. They are in the process of updating their Terms of Service based on the overwhelming feedback they have received. Pinterest also indicated that they will work with ASMP and others to solve the complicated attribution/source issues which were discussed.”

Today, likely as a result of the above conversations, Pinterest announced that it has updated its Terms of Service to make it more photographer-friendly. Here's how it reads now:


Pinterest allows you to pin and post content on the Service, including photos, comments, and other materials. Anything that you pin, post, display, or otherwise make available on our Service, including all Intellectual Property Rights (defined below) in such content, is referred to as “User Content.” You retain all of your rights in all of the User Content you post to our Service.


While the issue of inadvertently posting copyrighted material is still an issue, Pinterest's TOS should now be more acceptable and in line with with another site that's growing in popularity, Tumblr. Tumblr's photographer-friendly terms of service (which were also updated this morning):


Subscribers retain ownership of all intellectual property rights in their Subscriber Content, and Tumblr and/or third parties retain ownership of all intellectual property rights in all Content other than Subscriber Content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property you post to Tumblr.


In other words, if you post a photograph, you retain the copyright and Tumblr doesn't own it and can't use it without your permission, and you may charge them to use your photos for promotional purposes. All Tumblr owns is its own logos, design and name. That's the way it should be.


Four Things You Can Do To Protect Your Images Now


What can you do to strike the balance between protecting your copyrighted material from being spread around the Internet without attribution while still embracing the exciting and real marketing power of social networks? Here are four things you can do now:


Watermark any photo you post online. Just about every decent image editing program lets you add a watermark. How prominent to make it is up to you but at least you know identifying information will travel with your photograph, even on social networks that strip away your meta data. Include your name and your URL.

Even if you're posting from an iPhone or other smart phone, be sure to add a watermark. One watermarking app available for the iPhone is eZY Watermark. Take this important extra step before uploading that cool shot that you must share.

Add “nopin” code to your web site. Pinterest has created a “nopin” code which you can add to your web site's meta tags that will prevent anyone from tagging any images on your site. This only works if you know how to get into your site's HTML. If you're blogging, you might be out of luck depending on the authoring tools your blogging service has provided.

To add nopin to your page add:


to the top of your web pages. Then, if someone tries to pin one of your images, they'll instead see:

This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!

If you're on Flickr, enable Pinterest's Do Not Pin code. Flickr has added “nopin” to its code as an option.

Disable Right-Clicking Images. The easiest way to rip off an image is to right-click it, then download it to your computer. However, there is a Javascript code snippet that, if you are HTML savvy, you can add to the end of each of your web pages that will result in an error message that says “Right Click Disabled on Images!” As long as your image isn't hyperlinked, this should work. You can cut and paste the script from the Dynamic Drive web site, and follow the instructions. (By the way, Dynamic Drive has lots of cool cut-and-paste HTML, Javascript and other code snippets that add cool features to any web site. All you have to do is keep their copyright data in the code and you can use it freely. The other catch? You need to know HTML.)

Take 15 minutes and carefully read your social network's Terms of Service. Look for “red flag” terms such as “perpetual”, “irrevocable”, “all rights,” “permanent,” “sell,” “royalty-free,” “worldwide,” etc. in the terms. If you're not sure, do your research, consult an attorney or your peers and until you're comfortable, don't upload any photos to that site. Each social network has its own terms of service, and while most are acceptable to most photographers, you should make an informed decision and if you're not comfortable with the terms, don't post pictures on that site.

And if a site tells you that the terms of service have been changed, read them again. Don't know where to find Terms of Service? They're most likely at the bottom of the homepage, in light, small type, hard to find. At least two services will add new posts as you scroll to the bottom of the page so it becomes almost impossible to get to the TOs! And sometimes, it's somewhere else. It's as if some sites don't want you to see their TOS.

So, I've made it easy for you:

What are you doing to protect your intellectual property while using social media to promote your photography? Have you been the victim of unauthorized image sharing on social networks? Share your experience below!


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