Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Social Media & Photographers

It's virtually a given that you are making use of some form of social media to keep in contact with clients, colleagues, friends & family. And why not? It's fun, it's easy and allows information, promotions, or simple idle banter to instantly be broadcast to all of your contacts and in turn, their contacts, with little more effort involved than a simple keystroke. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace... these are the new meeting places in cyberspace. Besides the sheer entertainment value, there is also economic & professional value in having the ability to instantly cast a wide net of communications. There is also peril for those of us that use these services to distribute images & other forms of intellectual property. Read on...

Today, at Rob Haggart's APE blog, there appears a story about Haitian Photographer Daniel Morel. Morel was in Port Au Prince when the big earthquake hit. Morel, being on the ground when disaster struck, was able to capture some of the first photographs of the ensuing devastation. Given that most forms of traditional communications in Haiti were interrupted by the quake's damage, distributing these early earthquake photos must have been very difficult indeed. As a result, Morel opted to use Twitter to get his images out to the world.

According the APE, APF (Agence France Presse) found Morel's images thru another Twitter user who had allegedly hacked into Morel's account and stolen them. APF downloaded Morel's images and then distributed them, crediting the alleged hacker, rather that Morel, the real author of the work. Those images appeared in newspapers (and we can assume other news media) worldwide.

A simple case of infringement, cut & dry, you say? Well hold on there... nothing could be further from the truth... or at least the truth according to AFP. Morel did go after AFP for infringement. He went after Getty Images too as apparently Getty also played a hand in distributing the work.

AFP is now, in turn, suing Daniel for "antagonistic assertion of rights". You can read the details of the AFP complaint at Dan Kennedy's blog, Media Nation.

The crux of AFP's complaint points to the TOS for Twitter users. What's a TOS, you ask? TOS stands for Terms of Service. All social media sites... in fact almost all interactive website have them... blog hosting sites, FaceBook, Twitter, web hosting services. Some sites have TOS more disturbing than others. In this specific case involving a user of a Twitter Account, the TOS claims that anything uploaded using the service grants Twitter a "non-exclusive license" to use all uploaded content, including copyrighted photographs.

Here's an excerpt from Twitter's TOS:

  • By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you 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).

Even worse, the TOS goes on to state:
  • You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.
  • Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.

The bad news, at least for photographer Daniel Morel, is that even his attorney states that Mr. Morel had no prior experience using Twitter and, in fact, did not read the Terms of Service.

Do you read the TOS at sites and networking media distribution services that you use? Don't you think it's time you did? I can't speak for Twitter or for MySpace as I am not a user of either of these services. My primary networking services involve use of Google's Blogger & FaceBook. Both of these services claim less intrusion into intellectual property rights of creators according to their respective Terms of Service, even claiming to uphold copyright for creators. What neither of these services tell you, however, is that when uploading photographs to either of these services, all metadata where you SHOULD be inserting your name as author, your contact & copyright information not only to simply protect yourself from unauthorized use or distribution, but to also simply identify yourself as author & creator of the image, is immediately stripped away from the uploaded image file when uploading the either of these services.

Networking & social media sites are not the only ones at fault these days for attempting to make covert right's grabs. Far too many photography contests also hide language within their Terms of Entry,  grabbing distribution and use rights from unsuspecting contest entrants.

The lesson to take away from Mr. Morel's mistakes? If you are an author of any form of intellectual property... written word, recorded music, video, film, photography, etc., first & foremost it is IMPERATIVE that you take the time to read the Tems of Service before using any of these services or entering any contest. The rights bestowed to you automatically as creator are in peril if you opt out of doing so. As image makers, I feel strongly that we should take it one step further (and readers of this blog or contacts via FaceBook will note that I take this step almost religiously with most of the imagery I upload & post) and embed watermarks with name, year of creation and the copyright symbol © to the front of all images we upload and post at any of these services. Not only does this offer a bit more protection from unauthorized use (watermarks CAN be removed if you've got the time and patience), but it also identifies us as authors & creators, making us a little easier to find & contact in the cases when legitimate art buyers like what they see and wish to contact us.

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