Nov 30, 2007

The Dangers of Photo Sharing Programs

Each and every day that we blog or post online, we know that a few or many hundreds, or for some bloggers, thousands, even millions, may be visiting our sites. And as AOL warns us, everything we post online can be seen...forever. It can also be stolen, altered, misused or even used against us.

We think we know about spies, trackers, cookies and robots. What we forget, sometimes, is that everything we put online is available, and alterable, by anyone with the right, the copyright, or the appropriate technology to do so. Unfortunately, this includes any photos or other images that we post, or even store online in photo hosting programs.

Photo hosting is one of those things that we all love. Whether you use Picasa (as I do) or AOL (as I do) or Webshots or Snapfish (as I have)...or a million other programs...most of those programs own the rights to your photos and have the right to use them without your permission.

That right was brought home to a 16 year old teenager in Australia recently who unexpectedly saw her photo up on a billboard for Virgin Mobile. She had never given her permission to have it used for advertising and had no idea of how it had gotten up there. It turned out that a friend of Alison Chang had posted the photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons license. Under that licensed agreement, Flickr owned the right to use any photos posted for any commercial purposes and had it picked up by Virgin Mobile.

Creative Commons licenses to some, or to all of your work. The rights granted vary, so if you ever design to assign one, know what you're agreeing to. It was meant to be a 'free' tool that would allow authors, scientists, artists, and educators to easily mark their creative work with assigned freedoms to change copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved." As such, it defines the spectrum of possibilities that lies in between a fully restricted copyright to the public domain of no copyright at all.

Creative Commons licensing allows us to share,to remix, and to reuse...legally. On the plus side, it allows the proliferation of images, poetry, works of art, books etc. to spread like wildfire across the Internet... giving desired publicity, and publication, to its creators. On the downside, it becomes open to misuse, alteration, or misinterpretation.

Reading about this, and thinking about my recent posts on Copyright laws on the Internet, made me think about the images that I store and/or publish. A quick check into contracts of Photo Hosting services and a backup computer listing service tells me this:

You retain the rights to all photos you post on Flickr. However, you grant Yahoo a license to use the photos posted in public areas. Yahoo does not pay royalties for any photos it uses and it can use your photos to promote Flickr. Yahoo may also modify or adapt any of your publicly posted photos.

AOL Pictures:
You own the photos you post and store, but like Flickr, AOL is granted the rights to use them if publicly posted. AOL and its associates also have the right to modify them and to use them in any medium it chooses. Unlike Flickr, AOL does not give you the option of applying a Creative Commons license. AOL does include a link, however, to remind visitors that they need your permission to repost your photos.

Kodak Gallery:
Kodak does not claim ownership of your photographs. However, you do give them the right to use and distribute your images. This is for the purpose of making prints etc. Photos are not available publicly.

Web Albums: You retain the copyright to images you post to Google's Picasa. However, Google is licensed to use your photos. Google claims a perpetual, irrevocable license. The license is also royalty free worldwide and they can also modify or alter your photos and can make them available to companies for syndicated purposes. Picasa does not offer Creative Commons licenses.

Remember: Just because your name is on the blog, the post, the photo album or the online store sales site, you don't 'own' it. Know your rights and remember that when it comes to the Internet, only the people are invisible, everything else is seen by someone.
Check out my post on blog copyright info:
What is a Copyright and Is Blog Material Copyrighted?

Linking to another's blog, or post, or idea, or technique is never a violation, it simply sharing a link to source. For additional information on the General Copyright laws, go to:

For additonal info on Quilting and copyrights, see:

Copyrights and Quilting
Dangers of Photo Sharing Programs

What is IP via US Patent and Trademark Office

“Who Owns What?” via Stanford University



Tools for Artists: | reverse image look up | The importance of watermarking 

LEGAL GUIDE FOR BLOGGERS: Intellectual Property  





Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating topic and one that no doubt will be going through many changes as time passes and laws start to change, albeit very slowly.

I, too, have started reading the terms of many of the sites on which I have or once had posted various items. If the rules are spelled out and you hit that "Agree" button, then it would be difficult at best to ever challenge some uses of material.

However, changing the rules AFTER one has signed on certainly brings a unique twist to what is and isn't legally permissible. It would be reasonable that some uses will be successfully challenged in the courts over time.

Until the laws can catch up with the ever changing nature of the Internet, there will continue to be some ambiguity as to what is allowed and not allowed as far as use of posting material. Keep in mind that laws vary internationally on a myriad of things, including the Internet.

In the meantime it is prudent to assume that anything posted online has the potential to be misused. However, there are some sites that do state specifically that once you remove pics or terminate membership that their use of your pics also terminate. Unfortunately, that wouldn't stop some of the giants from sweeping in and using those items off cached pages, I suppose.

Interesting, very interesting and something I know I will continue to monitor. ;-)

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

OK, now this has some really scary implications. Thanks, as always, for keeping us all on our toes.

Shelina said...

When I did those photo mosaics, I did think it was strange that they were pulling up pictures others had posted on the web, and figured that people had added the tags, so they could make those mosaics. I also wonder about photos we pick up from the web- books, tv, etc., but that seems like free advertising.
I personally don't post photos to the photo sharing sites, except for blogger where only a limited numbers of photos are posted. I'm sure people could just copy and use the photos, but figure I maintain the copyright, so if they make money off my photos, they are going to have to share with me. I am going to have to look up blogger's guidelines for photos.

Perry said...

Thanks a bunch for this information. Rather scary, when you think about it.

Unknown said...

Photo sharing is a blessing- just make sure you keep control of your photos- I use Pixamo in which every user must register and log in every time they want to view my non public content- This way I can control who sees each individual photo and video.

Quilt Junquee said...

I just saw a special on ABC news about this and I couldn't believe it when I found this blog. This is exactly what they warned us about, only you are actually easier to understand. Now, I need to check out my own photos!

Anonymous said...

I'm also concerned about sharing private information in the photos I post online. All smartphones are required to support GPS by 2012, which means geotagging will become a standard feature. When I first learned about it, I turned off GPS. Then I searched around and found a free app called Pixelgarde, which lets me keep geotags for myself, and other data too, but not share it when I share photos.

Browndirtcottage said...

Ohhhhhh my!