Let’s face it, you are waging a losing battle. In fact, it’s not even a battle because one side has won already.
Every time you sign up for a social network, be it Facebook, Twitter or Google+, you are faced with TOS (Terms of Service) that are naked rights grabs — making it a risky proposition for you to share your images.
And yet, everyone tells you that the only path to success in 2011 is to have your images on these sites.
What to do, you ask?
There’s No Free Lunch
Here are three basic facts photographers should know about social networks:
- There is still no such thing as a free lunch. If someone offers you something for free, it is only because they get some kind of benefit out of it. You can be sure they will find a way to monetize your images.
- If you use a service for free, you become the product. What do you think Facebook, Twitter or Google+ sell, anyway? It’s you. Your participation on their sites is what they sell to advertisers. That includes your pictures.
- In order to show the images you post on these sites to your friends and family, the social networks need the legal right to do so. Since there is no way for them to actually know who your friends, family or others are, you must submit to a blanket agreement stating that they can share them with everyone.
If you think you can sign up on a social network that will genuinely protect your intellectual property, you are sticking your big left toe in your eye. It is just never going to happen.
So, what to do? Deal with it.
Sharing Is Caring
It’s time to accept the fact that if you post your images on a social network, there is a 110 percent chance you will lose complete control of that image.
What are the repercussions of this, anyway?
If you post pictures of your 3-year-old nephew at your cousin’s barbeque party, you don’t have much to worry about. Besides a few polite “likes” from your relatives, not much will happen to that image, and it will soon be forgotten along with the other 10 million images uploaded to Facebook in a month.
However, if you post the only image of a plane crash landing on the Hudson River, well, get ready for it to be grabbed and spread around.
Here is the irony: Photographers or photo agencies post their images on social networks in order for them to be seen, appreciated and — dare we say it — shared.
The presumed intent of posting such images is for them to be viewed by a wealthy photo editor, who will either purchase them or hire you, right?
And since you do not yet know this hypothetical photo editor, the only way to reach this person is via other people who repost your images, right?
Do you expect all these people to ask you for permission and pay you a license fee every time they share your pictures? If so, you’re in dreamland.
Fortunately, ownership of an image doesn’t lie solely in managing its usage. It is also embedded in it. If you have a style, a talent, a point of view and an identity, your image will always speak your name, credit or no credit. People who see your images will want to track you down in order to find the talent behind those photographs.
If they don’t, well, that’s because you’ve failed as a photographer.
You’ve Got Three Options
Social networks’ TOS are not going to change because they are at the core of how they make money. Not by licensing your images (everyone knows there is no money there), but by using them to grow the network and sell more eyeballs to advertisers.
And for that, they need the right to do what they damn well like with your images. Forever.
Bottom line, you’ve got three choices as a photographer:
- Don’t upload your images
- Watermark your images
- Upload only images that you are ready to give away
Whatever option you choose, can we all please stop bitching and moaning about every new TOS like there is anything we can do about them?
Stop wasting your energy and time. Get back in the saddle and figure out how you can benefit from social networks without losing your shirt (and your sanity) in the process.