NOTE: This was cross – posted at GoingPro2010.com

Do you actually read the Terms of Service Agreements and EULAs that you sign or click “OK” on? I bet you don’t – but you should. Especially if you are a photographer who worries about people taking your images and profiting by them without your permission or without sharing those profits with you.

By posting images to some of the “sharing” sites —– you’re sharing all right —– you’re sharing a free license that allows most of these sites to profit from your work in return for hosting the images. That’s a pretty bad deal in my opinion, considering the fact that you can also build a blog for free that would allow you to avoid giving up control.

Sites like Facebook for instance are particularly tricky. I got quite a response when I posted the following Tweet two days ago…

“You realize you’re granting worldwide, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to Facebook by posting images there?”

I was merely trying to make people aware of FB’s general approach. I am not saying that they do anything evil with your photos. I am saying they COULD if they want to, and that alone makes me run for the hills. To some people, i.e., those who have zero commercial aspirations and who couldn’t care less if someone else profits from their photos, this is no big deal. To those folks I say great. You need not worry about this. If you’re in the category of photographers who just shoots for fun, doesn’t plan to sell your images, doesn’t care if someone else does, doesn’t care if you get left out of the loop when it comes time to get a check, then you should ignore this post. It’s not relevant to you. There’s no problem posting your images anywhere and everywhere.

But if you hope to go pro some day. . . or you are a pro. . . or if you just feel like it’s not fair that someone else should be able to financially profit from your hard work, pay attention. Start reading the fine print. At least you then know what you’re getting yourself into.

People responded to that tweet with everything from outrage to fanboyism. But the important responses were questions like: “Where should we put our images?”

The safest answer is: Post photos on your own website or blog. Then you set your own Terms of Service. My TOS is simple – I never steal from myself!

If you use your own site, you never have to worry about a third party’s privacy or intellectual property policy changing.

Here is a link to Facebook’s TOS. Paragraph two contains the language above. It also contains the following sentence regarding your photos:

“…you understand that we may use them without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).”

I have no problem with this. I simply don’t post anything to Facebook. They are free to engage in any business model they like and as photographers, we are free to post there or not. This post isn’t intended to talk you out of using Facebook. It’s intended to let you know what you are agreeing to in case you are like 99% of the folks who don’t read the fine print.

Some of the responses I saw on Twitter incorrectly assumed that this is simply going to be the case no matter where you post your photos. They assume you’ll have to give up a license for others to profit from your work no matter what. That’s not true. I haven’t read every single TOS out there. But I have read the Pictage TOS, SmugMug TOS and the PhotoShelter TOS and I am very comfortable posting my images on those sites. They don’t have provisions in their TOS (as of the date of this writing) that cause you to license the images in such a potentially aggressive manner.

I am not a licensed attorney and you should certainly consult with one before making any legal decisions. I can’t tell you what every single photo sharing/hosting site’s TOS might say – nor can I tell you which nuances such as linking or posting make a difference. I did consult my attorney before writing this post and came to the conclusion that as a working professional, I shouldn’t post images on Facebook. (I deleted my FB account last month but had never posted any photos there anyway.) My conclusion was that it was okay to post on Pictage, SmugMug and/or PhotoShelter. You have to decide for yourself how you want to handle this. But at least do one thing – read the Terms of Service before you click to accept. Sometimes the thing you’re getting in return for posting is worth it and sometimes it’s not. Only you can make that decision. My goal here is to make sure you are informed. I have no dog in this hunt. Whatever you decide is right for you is fine by me. I just want to make sure that you go into it with your eyes open. Good luck to us all!

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This post sponsored by X-Rite Color and the ColorChecker Passport