Protect your photo rights online
Understand what rights you may be giving up before posting photographs on the Internet
A big part of the joy of photography is sharing your images with others. The Internet has made it easy to instantly show your shots to friends, family, and even people you don't know. Many photographers post their work to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, photography forums, or their own blogs and websites.
But along with the reward of sharing your shots with a wider audience comes the risk that the host for the website you display images on may be able to use your photos in ways you don't intend. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your photos when posting them on the Internet.
Understand a site's Terms of Service
Read through the TOS to determine if simply posting your content (a broad term that includes your photos) allows the site to take your copyright, or gives it a broad license to use your work for marketing or advertisements.
Be smart about photo contests
Another time photographers should exercise caution is when they enter a contest. Photo contests can be a great way to get recognition for your work (and even win some prizes in the process). Unfortunately, many companies use photos contests to collect images cheaply for marketing and advertising purposes.
What these contests do is commonly referred to as a "rights grab." The sponsor designs the contest rules so that just by submitting an image—even if you don't win the contest—you grant the sponsor the right to use your image for any purposes without paying you. Therefore, when you submit your beautiful sunset shot to one of these contests, it can end up in a huge advertising campaign and you don't get a dime for it. Some contests add insult to injury by charging you for entering photos.
Read the rules or terms carefully before entering any contest so that you know what rights you are granting to the contest sponsors. The same language as identified above, such as "copyright transfer" or "unlimited license," are clues that the contest sponsors are taking more rights than you may want to grant to them.
Because these rights grabs contests are rampant, the Pro-Imaging organization has prepared a list of rules that it believes are appropriate and fair for photo contests. You can review Pro-Imaging's "Bill of Rights for Competitions" at pro-imaging.org. Pro-Imaging also maintains a list of photo competitions that meet its Bill of Rights standards and a list of those that don't.
Online sharing sites and contests make it fun and easy to share your photos and to get recognition for your work. Just make sure that you don't take uninformed risks that could ruin those rewards.
[Carolyn E. Wright is a licensed attorney dedicated to the legal needs for photographers. Get the latest in legal information at Carolyn's website, photoattorney.com. These and other legal tips for photographers are in Carolyn's book, The Photographer's Legal Guide, available on her website.]