Photos & Facebook: Who Owns Who?


I often thank my lucky stars that Facebook wasn’t around back when I was in school or college. We were all young once, and we all made mistakes. However without the “power” of social media, any evidence of my twenties is largely relegated to fading memories and definitely hasn’t made its way into cyberspace. And as no doubt most other business owners would agree, that’s how I like it.

As a solicitor, I am acutely aware of rights, obligations and consequences. After all, that is my job. One of the key lessons you learn as a solicitor is never put in writing something you wouldn’t feel completely comfortable with being read out in a Court of law. And you can extend this principle to photos and postings to social media. Once it’s out there, most people have no idea how to get it back. And the reality is, when it comes to some social media outlets like Facebook, you actually can never be sure you’ve even got it back. So a few things to think about before you starting posting those incriminating pics:

Does Facebook own my photos: When you post your photos on Facebook you give Facebook the right to use the photos in accordance with your privacy settings. To use Facebook’s own terminology, you grant them a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.” Bear in mind, that although Facebook can only use your photos in accordance with your privacy settings, these settings can be difficult to navigate, the default settings may not be what you would expect and they do change from time to time. Depending on how you’ve configured your settings, you may be sharing those birthday photos with just your friends, friends of friends or absolutely everyone. So at a minimum, review your settings.

What about if I delete the photos or delete my account: The licence you grant to Facebook to use your photos ends when you delete the photos or your account “unless your content has been shared with others and they have not deleted it.” What does this actually mean? If I delete photos are they still out there? Possibly – It’s similar to when you send an email to a friend…. you can always delete the copy you hold in your account, but you can’t delete the copy that’s been sent to someone else. So when it’s out there, it’s out there. Also, once a photo has been posted on Facebook and downloaded by someone else, you lose even more control.

How can I protect myself: Business owner, employee or student – whatever your stage or position in life, your reputation and public image is an asset that needs to be protected.

– Actively and carefully manage your privacy settings.

– Run a search using all names you’ve used both online and offline. Use a few different search engines to make you are catching as much as possible. Make sure you approve of what you see.

– Use the ‘image’ and ‘blog’ search functions on search engines to find any photos or commentary that may have been posted about you.

– Look carefully for any comments, tagged photos or videos, messages or invitations that you wouldn’t want made public.

– Regularly evaluate the social networks and online services that you use. Cancel the ones you don’t.

– But most importantly of all, use your head. Before you post anything anywhere think how you’d feel about a prospective employer or client looking at that photo and if you have any doubts at all, don’t post it.

Back when I was a teenager, I was on a crusade to save the world. I also went through a brief faze where I insisted on being called Apple. Apple wouldn’t recognise me these days. Too busy saving the world, she sure didn’t think she’d end up wearing a suit and setting up Taylor Solicitors, Cork. I can only imagine what she would have posted on Facebook if given the chance. The point is, no one knows exactly where they will end up or more importantly who will end up looking at them online.

So think like a solicitor…. post carefully.

Facebook: Statements of Rights and Responsibilities: http://www.facebook.com/terms.php

Facebook: Privacy Policy: http://www.facebook.com/terms.php#!/policy.php

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