Let’s face it, you are waging a losing battle. In fact, it’s not even a battle because one side has won already. Every time you sign up for a social network, be it Facebook, Twitter or Google+, you are faced with TOS ( Terms of Service) that are pure rights grabbing, making it a very dangerous proposition for you to share your images. Yet, everyone tells you that the only path to success is to have your images on these sites.
So, here are three core facts that you need to know about Social Networks:
- There is still no such thing as a free lunch. If someone offers you something for free, it is only because they get some kind of benefit out of it. You can be sure they will find a way to monetize your images.
- If you use a service for free, you become the product : what do you think Facebook, Twitter or Google + sell ? You. Your interaction on their sites is what they in turn sell to advertisers. That includes your pictures.
- They need the legal right to share your images. In order to show the images you post on their site to your friends and family, they need the legal right to do so. Since there is no way for them to know who are your friends, family or others ( nor do they care) , they make you agree to a blanket agreement stating that they can share them with everyone.
So, if you think you can sign up for a social network site that will protect your intellectual property, you are sticking your big left toe in your eye. It is just not and never going to happen. The answer ? Deal with it.
Accept the fact that if you post your images on a social network site, there is a 110 % chance that you could loose complete control of that image.
Play along .
If you post pictures of your 3 years old nephew at your cousin’s barbeque party, you have not much to worry about. Besides a few polite likes from your relatives, not much will happen to that image and it will soon be forgotten along with the other 10 million images uploaded to Facebook in a month. However, if you post the only image of a plane crash landing on the Hudson river, well, get ready for it to be grabbed and spread around.
Here is the irony. Photographers or photo agencies will post their images on social network sites in order for them to be seen, appreciated and dare we say it, shared (ouch). Isn’t it the intended purpose of posting these images that they will end up in front of the eyes of a wealthy photo editor who will either purchase it or hire you? And since you do not know him yet, the only path is via friends of friends re-posting it ? Should they all ask you for permission and pay you a license fee every time they do ? In other words, you give them something to share but you don’t want them to share.
Well then, quite a paradox . Ownership of an image doesn’t lie solely in managing its usage. It is also embedded in it. If you have a style, a talent, a point of view and an identity, your image will always speak your name, credit or no credit. Better yet, people who see your images will want to track you down in order to find out who is the talent behind those photograph. If they don’t, well, that’s because you failed as a photographer.
So what should you do with all these rights grabbing, soulless TOS that you keep on facing every day?
They are not going to change because they are at the core of how these social networks make money. Not so much by licensing your images, obviously ( everyone knows there is no money there), but by using them to grow their network and thus selling more people to advertisers. And for that, they need the right to do what they damn well like with your images. Forever.
Keep that in mind next time you post images on any of these sites ( and others). Your choices :
- Do not upload images
- Watermark your images
- Upload only images you are ready to give away
Either way, stop bitching and moaning about a new TOS like there was anything you could do about it. Although it might feel like it sometimes, it is not your platform, it’s theirs. They will do whatever they think is appropriate to generate revenue from it . They don’t owe you anything, you do.
So stop wasting your energy and time . Get back on your saddle and figure out how you too can benefit from their services intelligently without loosing your pants and shoes ( and your sanity). Eventually the ecosystem will find a balance.
About the author
This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians” Roger Therond, legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.
Paul Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog