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Social Networking Terms of Use Tips for Artists

The Internet can be an excellent tool for promoting your artwork. It gives you the potential to reach a worldwide audience and is a cheap way to promote your work. But with this convenience comes a number of pitfalls. What is your relationship with the site where you post your work? What rights do the sites have? How can you protect your work from potential infringers? It is important to consider these questions before deciding to post your work online.

“Terms of service” is a generic term for the user agreements from various websites. They may also be called “Terms of Use,” “Rights and Responsibilities,” etc. All of them spell out your rights, the rights reserved by the website and the relationship between the site and the user.

Networking Sites
Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube allow users to post personal profiles, comments, videos, music and photographs. To protect users, these sites offer various levels of privacy protection that allow you to limit the information people can access in your virtual “profile.” But if your goal is to promote your work, keeping people from seeing it would be counterproductive. In order for the website to show your content to other site members or Internet surfers generally, you have to grant them permission — called a license — to do so. You generally agree to such a license in the site’s terms of service, which come into effect when you register an account.

This license usually involves granting the site permission to perform, distribute and reproduce the work. Without this permission, the site could not show your work (usually referred to as “content” in these provisions) to anyone else, which would defeat the purpose of using the internet for promoting your art. The sites can send your work all over the world and don’t have to pay you royalties.

These sites will also likely reserve the right to delete content, which allows them to remove illegal content, like copyright-infringing work or child pornography. Be aware that the site will generally reserve the right to remove content at its discretion and will have the final say in what content is obscene or offensive — regardless of artistic merit.

These sites do NOT own your content. The limited license granted by the terms of use is NOT a transfer of ownership. You still have the right to sell or license your work, or its reproductions or derivatives, to whomever you choose. And most sites, even facebook, say that the license granted by the terms of use ends when you delete your account. Content may be still be stored on servers, but for all intents and purposes, it is no longer available to anyone through the site.

Privacy settings can limit these licenses further. If you set your content to “Private” on MySpace, for example, the site will not publicly distribute it.

Facebook’s terms of use
MySpace’s terms of use
YouTube's terms of use

Online Albums
Sites like Picasa and Flickr allow you to post photographs grouped in albums for others to view. The license agreements in the terms of use for these sites are very similar to those used by the networking sites. They may also reserve the right to use your photographs in advertisements for the site. Keep in mind that you are sometimes licensing your work to a parent company rather than a specific website. In the case of Picasa, the license goes to Google. For Flikr, the parent company is Yahoo! This can mean that other services offered by the parent company can be authorized to use your content.

Picasa’s terms of use
Flikr’s terms of use

When you post content, particularly photographs of your work, you may want to include a copyright notice. Copyright notice has three parts: the name of the copyright holder, the copyright symbol ©, and the date. For example: © 2009 Jane Author. You own the copyright to your work from the moment of creation until you transfer those rights, and copyright does not depend on attaching a copyright notice to your work. What the notice does is tell people, without a doubt, that this is a copyrighted work, owned by you.

Also, you may want to upload your photographs in low resolution. This will allow people to view them on their computer screens but not, for instance, to blow them up to use in advertisements without your permission. You can also include a digital watermark over the images that will appear and distort the image if it is expanded. A watermark might include your name and/or copyright notice.

For tips on protecting your images, see 11 Free Online Copyright Tools for Photographers and Artists.

For more information on copyright, download our guide.

"The Internet is a godsend for artists of all kinds. Social media tools in particular allow you to connect directly with the people most likely to embrace your art, music, written words, etc. It's what allows me to make a full-time living as an author. Embrace technology and use it to share your gifts with the world!"
Bob Baker, author and music marketing expert

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