Which Social Network Is Best For My Photographs?


Social networking is all around us, you can tweet on twitter, share your status on Facebook and now (for the lucky few who have been invited,) use Google+ to share your goings on with the rest of the human race.

Leaving aside how much time one does spend on these services, which one is best for staying connected with your friends, or indeed which one is most addictive im going to have a look at which of them is actually best for you and your photos. Every service you sign up to has pages and pages of small print, very few people (if anyone) reads it, effectively giving the developers free reign to do what they want. To me, it seems almost as if large companies deliberately increase the size of their terms of service just to mask out the terms they dont want you to see.

Before I delve into dissecting each social network, I want to get things clear, although many of these services are ‘free’ to the consumer (or use a freemium model) they still make plenty of money from advertising. I have been a member of Facebook for several years now, not purchased any of their ‘add-ons’ yet have still been bombarded by advertisements every-time I log in, so in short, even tho i’ve not paid directly, ive still paid in terms of looking at advertisements which Facebook get a commission for.

As we have touched on Facebook already, let look at that first. Launched officially in 2004, with over 750 million active users it makes over $2bn (USD) each year, making it perhaps the largest social network on the planet (source). From a photograph point of view it is estimated that 964 photos are uploaded to Facebook every second (2.5 Billion a month), which by any view, let alone a data storage point of view is a lot of photographs (source). Facebook are known for changing their terms at short notice, and the terms that they change normally are extensive. Even though billions of pictures are uploaded each month, those users are in affect giving away the intellectual property rights of both photos and videos. Facebook’s terms of service state in 2.1:

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.” 09/07/11 (Source)

So in short, upload a photo to Facebook, and they can use your photo for what ever they like, including selling it on, without compensating you. Moreover, this agreement doesn’t end when you delete your photo or movie from your account, it has to be deleted from everyones account on Facebook.

Next on the list isTwitter, founded in 2006, with over 200 million users, handling over 1.6 billion search queries per day its projected revenue of $140bn makes it the new ‘RSS light’ (source). Twitter is a little harder to analysise as Twitter itself does not store photographs, it merely provides API’s to allow 3rd parties to integrate into Twitter to provide the capability of photo-sharing.  Perhaps the most popular one (which perhaps suggests endorsement by Twitter by using half of its name) is Twitpic. Sadly its a similar story as with Facebook:

“You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic. However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels” 09/07/11 (Source)

My photos aren’t safe on Twitpic either. Twitpic can use them or re-distribute them free of charge.

Flickr is something I use on a regular basis. As a keen photographer, all the photographs on my website are actually hosted on Flickr (at low res), as this allows the physical size of my website to remain under 20mb, allowing speedy updating. Flickr are a subsidiary of Yahoo, and have the shortest terms and conditions by far with their being 11 clauses (and no sub clauses) making it possible to read them in under 2 minutes. Reading the terms however is academic when it comes to who owns the rights of your uploaded material, as they work closely with, and use the Creative Commons Licence scheme. When uploading you can choose whether to reserve all rights (in which case copying or redistributing by any party is prohibited), allow use of your work provided they credit you, or a combination in between.

This is the way I think we should be treated, I took the photo, I own the copyright to it, I choose who and who doesn’t have it, NOT the service I upload it to. Therefore Flickr gets a big thumbs up.

Now the new kid on the block, Google+, only a handful of people have got access to it, as it remains in beta so the terms of service may well change, however as it stands, it once again follows the lead of Facebook and Twitter. In its 20 clause document, term 11 outlines:

“You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.
You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.
You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.
You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.” 09/07/11 (Source)

Once again, upload to Google+ and you may as well offer to sell your images for Google, granting them unrestricted rights to your media to use as they see fit. I think its awful.

With there being so many social networks to choose from, the powers at be should be trying to entice us into using their services. In many respects they are, adding new features such as ‘find my friend’ ‘circles’ etc etc, which do add functionality do not tackle the crux of the matter. If I use a social network, I want my rights to remain my rights, or else to put it simply, I will go elsewhere.

However there is a way round it. If like me you upload photographs which you are proud of and do not wish them to be sold by Facebook, Twitter or Google+, I suggest you watermark them with your name. No 3rd party will want to buy them with “Photograph taken by” written all over it, or simply upload at a low resolution, so that any attempt to print can only be done at the size of a postage stamp.

To sum it up, I use Facebook/Google+/Twitter to upload pictures of me, my friends and general out and about shots, anything of any commercial value will be watermarked to prevent them from exercising their bogus terms. Flickr on the other hand hosts my entire portfolio, for one simple reason, my intellectual property rights, remain mine!

With so many photos to share around the world, choose your methods wisely to insure your rights remain yours!

With so many photos to share around the world, choose your methods wisely to insure your rights remain yours!