Legal Considerations

We are currently reviewing the Terms of Service for Drop Box, Google +, Tumblr and third-party Twitter Services. Check back here in the coming weeks for a review of these latest hot topic items in the social media arena.

As you decide whether to post images or video on a social networking site, you’ll have to keep in mind the great difference between legal rights and technological capability. Although we strongly recommend that you read the Terms of Service (TOS) for any site before you post your work, we want to warn you that the terms are only one consideration. Although they provide some shape to the legal landscape of your rights and the rights of the hosting company and other users, they are also limited in their practical effect for at least four reasons:

  1. Most of the TOS include language that gives the hosting company the right to make changes to its TOS without notifying you.
  2. Many of the TOS contain very broad language, and it may be difficult to determine where the hosting company’s rights end.
  3. The TOS may not be clear enough about what one user is allowed to do with another’s content.
  4. Many, if not most, users do not read the TOS. They simply click through. In those instances, the practical question is more about what people are able to do with the content than what they are allowed to do with the content.

These four limitations on the TOS are for the average user who generally wants to respect the copyrights of others. Unfortunately, if someone doesn’t care about infringing someone else’s copyright, then matters are even more difficult. As a matter of technological capability is concerned, an advanced user can copy anything that you can see or hear online. Certain functionality can make it easier or more difficult to make copies, but it doesn’t really constitute copy protection.

For example, the Photobucket service provides a default setting where others can freely copy media that is posted on the site. However, it gives you the option to uncheck a box, implying that others won’t be allowed to copy your photographs. However, the fine print on the site includes the following:

Uncheck this box to disable right-click save functionality on images and prevent anyone who views your albums from saving copies of your images or videos.

Note: If your images can be seen in a web browser, they can still be downloaded by advanced users. This option discourages viewers from saving copies, but it does not completely prevent it. Also, this option only applies to images when they are viewed in your Photobucket album. It is still possible to copy files that you share or embed on other sites.

Therefore, if there are images and video that you want to protect from copying at all costs, then you shouldn’t be posting them online. Our best practices recommendations are tied to your reasons for posting images on social networking sites and your comfort level regarding the risks of others making unauthorized copies.