Social media get canny

WHAT HAPPENS when a journalist decides to share some of their work to the world though one of those "social media" websites? A headache, first: you're enjoined to read dense legalese. So we read lots for you.

The owners have got canny. All the sites we checked -,,,,, and - now say you retain all rights in works that you upload. This is not what we remember from a couple of years ago. We suspect changes followed user outrage - and the suit and counter-suit between Daniel Morel and Agence France Presse over photos posted to Twitpic: see our report.

You may be familiar with the "you keep copyright BUT..." manoeuvre: all these are similar. All require "a non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any content that you post on or in connection with" their service. Fair enough, up to a point: the entire point of uploading something is to let others see it. Now for the devilish detail. Facebook, Twitpic and Photobucket (owned by News International) drop in a mention that this licence is "sub-licensable". Picasaweb (owned by Google) clearly "includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals... for the provision of syndicated services". Blogger, also owned by Google, does not.

Yahoo! as owner of Flickr appears not to make sub-licensing a general condition. You can choose to allow licensing of photos through - which is good... apart from wannabes undercutting professional photographers, a different discussion.

Twitpic now has you grant a licence to all users of their services to display your work "within the functionality of the service". Photobucket has you grant users a licence to "make derivative works" - so we won't be going there again.

All require that you give permission for them to modify your work: the lawyers probably justify that to allow thumbnailing photos, but that's not what it says.

All say they won't be responsible for anything, really. Flickr, Blogger and Twitpic have explicit clauses making you "indemnify" them - that is, agree to bear the full cost of any lawsuit resulting from what you upload.

Several services once earned opprobrium by stripping out "metadata" - the fields within an image file in which you can indicate ownership. We ran a few simple tests, and all now seem to preserve the basic "IPTC" information - except Facebook, which stripped out everything but copied the "copyright" line into the Facebook text database. Blogger stripped everything from a resized photo, but not the full-size version.

Picasaweb and Flickr now by default display an "all rights reserved" message alongside photos.

The conclusion? Building your own website seems like the only safe way to go. And, sorry, but you'll still have to check the terms for yourself; they may well have changed since we looked on 30 September, and we deny all liability for missing anything. That's catching.

Last modified: 06 Oct 2011 - © 2011 contributors
The Freelance editor is elected by London Freelance Branch and responsibility for content lies solely with the editor of the time
Send comments to the editor: