5 Oct 2010

Ask-Moshe-Anything-About-Art: Your artwork on Facebook

Posted by Moshe Mikanovsky

In a Social Media for Artist session I recently gave at the Hang Man Gallery in Toronto, photographer Patti Knight ask me this about loading her photography images to Facebook:

I was told that once you upload your photographs (or art) to Facebook you lose ownership on it, and Facebook owns it. This is why I don’t use Facebook and I don’t upload my images.

Is that true?

I have heard this before. I think I read it on one of the art forums, maybe it was WetCanvas. People are concerned about loosing ownership of their intellectual property (IP) by vague user agreements that are hard to read, and those we usually skip over before registering to sites, such as Facebook. I also refrained in the past from uploading my artwork to my Facebook pages.

At the time of the seminar I didn’t have the specific answer, mainly because I didn’t read Facebook’s current terms and conditions, and with Facebook you can never know. They have some history of updating their terms, changing security setup and policies, so you should always be on top of it. My gut-feeling answer was this: even if there is truth to it, I don’t believe that Facebook will actually do anything with the millions of photos they have in their servers. And it is up to each individual to research it and find out if they tolerate the risk of uploading the images with the specific Facebook terms.

I did some research today, and this is what I found.

First, lets see what the actual Terms and Conditions say, or as Facebook calls it, Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. (Note that the quote here is from October 5 2010, so make sure you check the current one on Facebook’s site http://www.facebook.com/terms.php):

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

  1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
  2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).

So first of all, the statement states clearly that you own all the content you post on Facebook. You do not lose ownership or move ownership to Facebook. This is both when you have the image actively on Facebook, as well as after removing it.

Now, you do give Facebook a license to use your image, with no royalty paid to you when used. Lets look at this more closely: “you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook” . Now, I am not a lawyer or IP expert, so it is my own interpetation of the wording. If you disagree please write me a comment below.

Non-exclusive - you (Facebook user)  can still license the image to anyone else you wish.

transferable – we (Facebook) can transfer the license or image to any location, server or entity we associate with.

sub-licensable – we (Facebook) can also sub-license the image to other entities.

royalty-free – we (Facebook) will not pay you (Facebook user) any royalties for using your images.

worldwide – we (Facebook) can use the image anywhere in the world.

to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook – Now here I can read it in two ways. First, it could read “for any IP content that you (Facebook user) post on Facebook, we (Facebook) can use it for any purpose”. The second way I can read it is “we (Facebook) can use the IP content that you (Facebook user) post on Facebook, for any purpose on Facebook only“.

Depends how this is legally interpreted, the two readings are very different. As a user, I should be OK providing the license to use on Facebook, otherwise Facebook will not be able to present it anywhere on their site. And that will defeats the purpose of uploading the image in the first place. But, if I give them permission to use my image anywhere, it could be also offline, on their printed marketing material, and potentially, also on printed products that they do get royalties for or made money off!

Some more reading:

The most I have found is around February 2009, when Facebook published some new policies. But, from what I read the policies today are not the same as they were in February 2009. In any case, this reading might still be relevant:

The bottom line is – do what is comfortable for you. Personally I don’t believe Facebook will do anything with your images, other than show them on Facebook. But, it is only my personal feeling. As an artist, make sure you have all your credits on the caption of each of your images, including your copyright. You can read a great article about this on Alyson B Stanfield’s blog, The 3 Most Critical Items on Your Facebook Fan Page.

I hope this answer helps and it doesn’t murks up the water even more.

Do you have any art related question?





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5 Responses to “Ask-Moshe-Anything-About-Art: Your artwork on Facebook”

  1. For me it’s an analysis of the upside vs. potential downside. Upside: by sharing examples of my art on my Facebook fan page, I reach a certain audience of people interested in my work. Good.

    Potential downside: Um, Facebook shares my artwork with a whole lot of extra people? Facebook abandons their current revenue model and decides to make millions selling prints of my artwork? Yeah, not things I’m going to worry about.



  2. Thank you Jul for the comment. I also agree FB won’t change their business model to printing… Although there could be other lucrative ways to make money off images…
    Seems to me like many artists put there images without thinking twice about it. Or, on the other hand, people that do not use it at all because of that fear.



    Moshe Mikanovsky

  3. Moshe: This is a fantastic article. While I’m not an attorney, I fully appreciate your breakdown of the Facebook terms.

    Artists waste a lot of time and energy worrying about image theft. Thanks for linking to my article that mentions credit lines. Most artists who are worried about image theft don’t even take the simple step of providing credit lines for their artwork anytime they post it online.


    Alyson B. Stanfield

  4. Hi Alyson,

    I also have to make some updates over my website and Facebook page to fix my credit lines. Someone commented on your blog that it will be cool to have the credit line information attached permanently to the image file, like in properties, and then show everywhere it is posted. It is a novel idea, and as a technologist and software developer I know it can be done, just a matter of creating some standard out there between all the content viewers.

    Thanks again for coming by and commenting on my post, and just want to let you know I love all your blog posts and newsletters. I get them daily and always check them up.



    Moshe Mikanovsky

  5. toda!

    again – fantastic and useful info and ‘food for thought’, and thanks for doing the boring and tedious research for us!


    Thank You


    Dalia Bar-Dror

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