1. Is a claim made that the copyright of my work is transferred to "company X" upon posting or submission?
2. Is a claim made that my copyrighted work will be distributed to sites under a set umbrella of sites and services (for example, Google: Google+, Google Search, Google Image Search, Google Maps, Google Places, etc.), or far beyond, such as a blanket claim to sublicense my shared work to known and unknown
companies/services (for example, third-party advertisers or image licensing services)?
3. Do terms used in relation to any claimed license include "irrevocable", "perpetual license", "fully paid", "royalty-free" or the classic phrase "by all means and in any media now known or hereafter developed"?
4. Can the Terms of Service be terminated by myself and not just by "company X"?
Sites & Their Terms Of Service
Social-media/microblogging website that allows users to share 140-character text updates and images. twitter.com/tos
Social-media website that allows users to share text, images and video. www.facebook.com/legal/terms
Social-media website that allows users to share text, images and video. www.google.com/intl/en/help/terms_maps.html & www.google.com/intl/en/policies/terms/
Social-media website aimed at professional networking that allows members to list a professional résumé and relay text status updates.
Social-media/microblogging site that allows users to make shortform updates with text, images and video. www.tumblr.com/policy/en/terms_of_service
A social bookmarking site that provides a visual interface to bookmarks via photos and videos. pinterest.com/about/terms/
When evaluating an existing or new social-media site in relation to copyright concerns, make every effort to look beyond the hype. Educating yourself to the purpose and limits of a site's ToS is incredibly important. A healthy dose of skepticism is good, but don't lose sight of reality.
What's the business model of the site you're evaluating? Do they have a track record of exploiting or reselling/relicensing copyrighted material? How can you maximize the opportunity before you with the website you're evaluating? What can you do to safeguard your copyrighted material while still making use of the site? These are but a few questions that should help you make a reasonable assessment of risks and set a course to make use of social media in a wise fashion.
Even for sites that have had the poorest of ToS, no major social-media site to date has made it their business to officially sell or relicense copyrighted material as one may see with a stock agency. Social media, while powered by the content of others, has always been about the collection of user data (demographics, interests, purchases, web-viewing trends, etc.) for the sake of targeted advertising. Things always can change, but precedent has shown social-media companies have skirted the hot-button topic of copyright infringement while savvy photographers have been creatively using social media, balancing risk and reward to enhance their businesses.
Jim Goldstein is a professional outdoor and travel photographer, as well as the VP of Marketing at BorrowLenses.com. You can follow him on his blog at www.jmg-galleries.com/blog, Twitter (@jimgoldstein), Facebook (www.facebook.com/jmggalleries) and Google+ (www.gplus.to/jimgoldstein).
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