The Perils of Social Media and Image Rights

Another intrusion into your rights and ownership occurred last week when the United Kingdom’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act was passed. On the heels of the Facebook and Instagram uproar of last year, this is yet another strike against image rights in social media.

I completely understand the need to generate revenue. After all, the coders, servers and networks aren’t free and it does take a lot to run huge media engines like Facebook or Twitter. But until these networks start charging membership to their global audiences, our use of their programs are subject to the terms they set forth. This said. I wish they would keep more of their focus on the revenue received from global advertising and not by the self-granted entitlement they claim on the works posted by the users on their networks. This comment does not take into account the “fair use” terms, which will be addressed in a future post, as it is a rather broad subject. Instead, what I’m currently taking issue with is the growing norm of social media networks generating revenue from rights protected works with out actually holding those rights themselves.

Orphan Works

The key term to take away from this newest reform act is orphan works. In other words, orphan works are works or images whose owners or creators cannot be found. So what is it really? As defined by this recent act, orphan works are works or images without IPTC and metadata. In general, many photographers don’t bother with or are unaware of the importance of IPTC and metadata in the protection of their rights.  Works with this information attached is so called protected, or so we think. The issue here comes from the fact that many social networks strip this information from the posted work, thus creating an orphan in the process.

How to Protect Your Photos Online

While social media is here to stay and is inarguably one of the best self-marketing tools you can employ to improve your position, it is also extremely important for you to become more aware and to take this information to heart in order to better protect yourself. My recommendation is to keep your posting of copywritten work to a minimum and use it more for marketing purposes, to drive traffic to your website and ultimately increase your sales, rather than for whimsical use.

There will always be those unscrupulous people out there who will steal your work for their own personal gain. The best thing we can do to protect our work is to show an awareness and restraint in the use of social media as a portfolio of our work. Try practicing some smart file management by adding all the protections you can, use metadata, watermarks and be vigilant on what you post.  Stay up to date on all of the laws and your rights, as they seem to continue to morph all the time and mostly to the advantage of whichever group has the deepest pockets.  Joining groups like the ASMP, APA, and PPofA  is also a positive step in the right direction, as they are the best advocates in lobbing efforts to protect the rights of the artist.

The long and short of this is that it’s ultimately up to you to decide what sort of risk you are willing to take, but don’t let someone else try and make that decision for you.

Ric Deliantoni is a professional photographer and director with thirty years of experience, with a focus on still-life and lifestyle imagery for advertising, design and publishing. He has developed a unique style that has been described as impressionistic and bold. Ric has also spent much of his career teaching and mentoring students of all levels to better themselves as artists.


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