The TOS Jungle

After a brief discussion in last week’s class regarding online photo editing software, I came across an article entitled Best Practice Recommendations for Social Networking Sites (http://asmp.org/articles/social-media-terms-service.html) on the American Society of Media Photographers website, which addresses terms of service at a few social media sites that might be of interest to the class. The article, which was written by a lawyer commission by the ASMP, can be found here. It pertains to photograph, but looks like it could just as easily work for other types of content. Different sites have different terms depending on content, some grant themselves and other users royalty-free licenses if you make your content viewable to the general public. Some sites address copyright and licensing directly, while for other sites it is nebulous. The social media used for hypotheticals in the article are Photobucket, Twitter, FaceBook and MySpace.

In the same vein, I looked into some of the free online photo editing software. I cannot vouch or the functionality of the software since I use Photoshop on my laptop, but I thought the Terms of Service were worth looking into for the online version of Photoshop (http://www.photoshop.com/misc/terms.html). With a few exceptions they follow some of the same language. If you upload and make your images publics, then you grant the company as well as other users a royalty-free license to use the images. Some of the companies, such as Adobe, limited the license to “… reproduce and modify Your Content solely for the purposes of operating the Service and enabling your use of the Service.“ In looking through Google’s terms of service, they do a good job of explaining why they need usages in the license.

If you upload content to Google’s Picasa (http://picasa.google.com) web sharing service “… you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.” However, it goes on to say that users can revoke the license later one. I’m not sure how that since the license if perpetual and irrevocable.  A bit of a caveat here though, it appears that you can download and use Picasa without having to use Picasa web sharing, though I would double check on that.

Other sites, which seemed to have fairly benign Terms of Services, at least from my interpretation, are Fotoflexer (http://fotoflexer.com/) and Picnik (http://www.picnik.com/), which was just purchased by Google, as there is possibility that the Terms of Service may change, which brings up something important if somewhat tedious. According to the author of the best practices article, users should make a habit of periodically checking sites TOS as they change from time to time.

As a disclaimer, I am not lawyer nor would they let me play one on television. To avoid legal hassles, I would suggest thoroughly reading through a site’s TOS with a lawyer or not uploading content of which copyright ownership might be questionable or model releases not signed by those in the pictures.

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