August 13th, 2011
Twitter has just launched it’s very own image hosting service (powered by Photobucket). For a couple of years now we have been used to 3rd party solutions such as Twitpic ( a name synonymous with “tweeted images”), YFrog, Mobypicture and Lockerz. All these image hosts allow a user to upload an image (from their phone or computer) to be hosted by them in order to share that content with other users via Twitter or other social media platforms.
As a professional photographer I know that controlling the use of my images by licencing the copyright I hold in them is vital. It’s how I earn my living. But for the general public, they may not be aware that some of these image hosting companies are able to effectively resell the images they upload without paying them a penny. So how can they do this?In this post I am going to aim to show you the good and the bad and explain what may happen to your images that you have uploaded. As usual the devil is in the detail: the terms and conditions you sign up to by making an upload to an image host’s site. Let’s take a look in turn at the terms of some of the most popular image hosting services, but first a quick (and very basic) copyright & licencing primer for those that are not used to how images are commoditised in the photo industry so that this article can be understood a little better:
Copyright: As the creator of a photo on your phone or with your camera you are the automatic copyright holder. There are exceptions to this (i.e. if you are shooting for an employer) but for the UK & US and most of the world this applies. You created it so you own it.
So what is copyright worth? Why do I need it? Can I make any money out of it? : Yes you can. By selling the rights to reproduce the photo. This is known as licencing.
Licencing a photo: You don’t sell the photo, or the copyright (ever!), you just sell the right to use it. This is how images in newspapers and magazines get there. Photographers like me sell the right to reproduce the photos I make to magazines and newspapers and advertising agencies in return for a fee. That fee depends upon the photo itself, how it is used, how unique it is and a number of other factors.
This doesn’t just apply to photographers. Anyone, any member of the public who has an image that someone else wants to use can charge a fee to use their image. It’s that simple.
So, to recap. You take a photo. You own the copyright automatically. You can use that copyright to sell the right to publish the photo for a fee.
What has this got to do with me, I only take photos on my phone?
Most people will never be in a position to sell an image because they won’t have an image a publisher wants. But what if you were there when a newsworthy event happened and you had your phone or camera available? Something you’d see in a newspaper or a magazine. Then you would have a valuable image on your phone or in your camera. Other images can be valuable too, travel shots, weather shots, the list is endless.
What does this have to do with Twitter image hosts?!
A lot of people nowadays take a snap and instantly upload it to Twitter or other social media to share. The minute you upload your image you either retain control or lose control depending on where you send it to! It’s that simple.
Some of the image hosts will automatically be able to sell your image and pay you nothing at all. Your image may get on the front of a newspaper or magazine or on the TV and you will earn nothing. Why? Lets see…
When reading the reviews below remember, Copyright on it’s own doesn’t make you any money. The licencing of the copyright does. So while all these hosts say “The Copyright remains with you”, this is not actually giving you anything that’s not yours already. Some image hosts give themselves the permission to sell on your images to publishers (or anyone who wants to buy them) without asking you (because you’ve agreed they can do this via their terms).
Image hosts know they can (if needed) sell your images to markets you can’t reach. Especially in the event of you uploading newsworthy (i,e, valuable) content. Above all else they know user generated content is $$valuable$$ even if you, the creator, do not.
**The Ratings:** Social media Image hosts, the good and the bad:
Twitpic are probably the best known 3rd party image host. They used to have a good set of terms but these changed in May this year. There has been a lot said about the change already but essentially they now grant themselves a licence to use or resell your images where and when they want with no recompense to you whatsoever..
Twitpic responded with this official post and it reads like they’re on your side. Well, sorry but it’s a skirt round the actual issue. Of course we retain our copyright Twitpic, and yes, we do (as we will see in a moment) grant you a licence to do what you want with our photos but hey, you forgot the bit about paying us when you sell them!
Here’s the detail in their terms you agree to when you upload to Twitpic:
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.
You grant this for no fee whatsoever. None is mentioned. They can do what they want with your photos and you’ll not see any payment.
My verdict? AVOID
2) TWITTER (via PHOTOBUCKET)
Twitter have just launched their own dedicated image host in response to the other 3rd party image hosts that have been around for a number of years. They are using the already well established Photobucket as their service provider
so it’s their terms and conditions we need to look at to see how our image rights will be handled.
UPDATE 14/08/11 09:00 – please see comment section from this comment down. John Kalucki from Twitter.com has informed me that the Photobucket Terms of Service (TOS) do not apply and that the Twitter ones do. However the Twitter terms appear to have the same effect, i.e. a worldwide royalty free licence to modify, transmit etc etc. I have sought clarification from John via @jkalucki and will update this section when I get his response.
UPDATE 14/08/11 16:15 – I am grateful for John’s reply. I understand he does not speak on behalf of Twitter. The Twitter TOS that apply are listed below. I have struckthrough the Photobucket TOS but left them in for context. To see how the conversation re Twitter unfolded see the comments section from this comment. Thanks J
You would think that after the interest and commentary surrounding Twitpic and their terms, dear old Twitter would have taken note. Unfortunately not.
Here’s the detail in the Twitter terms you agree to when you upload to the new Twitter image service (hosted by Photobucket):
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).
6.1 Photobucket does not claim any ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, applications, or any other materials (collectively, “Content”) that you post on or through the Photobucket Services. By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the Photobucket Services, you hereby grant to Photobucket and other users a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content marked “private” will not be distributed outside the Photobucket Services. Photobucket and/or other Users may copy, print or display publicly available Content outside of the Photobucket Services, including without limitation, via the Site or third party websites or applications (for example, services allowing Users to order prints of Content or t-shirts and similar items containing Content). Just as bad as Twitpic, though at least they have the decency to give a couple of examples of how others may profit from your content: for example, services allowing Users to order prints of Content or t-shirts and similar items containing Content
You grant this for no fee whatsoever. None is mentioned. They can do what they want with your photos and you’ll not see any payment. Nothing says they will actively sell your images but nothing says they won’t. The licence granted is so wide it’s limitless.
Sorry Twitter but these Terms are not at all friendly to content creators. If you want to enable Tweets to go round the world without payment then separate Tweets (i.e. text strings) from uploaded images, videos and artwork. Have a wide licence for Tweets and follow Yfrog or Mobypicture’s lead for images.
My verdict? AVOID (applies to Twitter and Photobucket)
3) LOCKERZ (formerly PLIXI)
Lockerz recently came on the scene (previously known as Plixi). With Lockerz came a new set of terms. As far as I am aware Plixi’s old terms were much friendlier than Lockerz. With Lockerz we are seeing the same sort of all-encompassing ‘do as we please with your photos’ terms as before.
Here’s the detail in their terms you agree to when you upload to Lockerz:
At least they’re upfront enough to tell you that you’ll not get paid anything “Lockerz shall not be required to compensate you for any such license or Submission” and if you upload anything you shouldn’t that causes another copyright holder to sue them, well….. you “agree to pay for all fees, royalties, or other costs and expenses claimed by any third party arising out of you making any Submission”
My verdict? AVOID
Yfrog are the social media arm of Image Shack, which like Photobucket seems to have been around for an awfully long time. I’m happy to report that unlike the previous three image hosting services, Yfrog actually respects the work you upload. Let’s take a look.
Here’s the detail in their terms you agree to when you upload to Yfrog:
The content that you distribute through the ImageShack Network is owned by you, and you give ImageShack permission to display and distribute said content exclusively on the ImageShack Network.
ImageShack will not sell or distribute your content to third parties or affiliates without your permission. Third parties may exercise the following options regarding your content:
- Third parties may hyperlink to the page that displays your content on the ImageShack Network without modification and with proper attribution to you.
- Third parties may request permission to use your content by contacting you directly.
All requests for permission regarding your content usage directed at ImageShack will be forwarded to you. All uploaded content is copyrighted to its respective owners. ImageShack directs full legal responsibility of said content to their respective owners. All content generated by ImageShack is copyrighted by ImageShack. ImageShack is not responsible for any uploaded content, nor is it in affiliation with any entities that may be represented in the uploaded content.
Fantastic! Finally a workable set of terms for content creators. Well done Yfrog and Image Shack that is a very respectful set of terms for all content owners considering this is an image sharing/hosting platform. Not only do they specifically state that they will not sell your content but they will direct all enquiries for usage back to you. Other users may link to your content but not modify it.
My verdict? RECOMMENDED
Of all the image hosts out there Mobypicture have desrevedly got themselves the reputation of being user content friendly. Taking a look at the Mobypicture terms we don’t see yards of legalese, just a simple statement that should reassure all users their content will be very much at home on a Mobypicture server!
Here’s the detail in their terms you agree to when you upload to Mobypicture:
All rights of uploaded content by our users remain the property of our users and those rights can in no means be sold or used in a commercial way by Mobypicture or affiliated third party partners without consent from the user.
It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Bravo to Mobypicture! Long may you continue to respect the rights of content creators.
My verdict? RECOMMENDED
Unfortunately it’s a huge #FAIL for Twitpic, Twitter and Lockerz and a big #WIN for Mobypicture and Yfrog.
If you are using Twitter via a client that has selectable image hosting services available in its settings then do yourself a favour and change your image host to Mobypicture or Yfrog, and protect your content.