Fine Print Blurs Who’s in Control of Online Photos
If you post a photo on the Web, it still belongs to you, right? Well, be sure to read the fine print.
World Entertainment News Network, a news and photo agency, announced this month that it had become the “exclusive photo agency partner” of Twitpic, a service with over 20 million registered users that allows people to upload images and link to them on Twitter. The deal allows the agency to sell images posted on Twitpic for publication, and to pursue legal action against those who use such images commercially without its permission, according to the agency.
The extent of that control is typically laid out in the terms of service that users agree to when they sign up for Internet services and smartphone applications. But the more such services people use, the harder it becomes to keep track of the things to which they are agreeing. And of course many terms of service, which are heavy on legal language, include clauses that assert the company’s right to change them without notice.
In a recent episode, the television show “South Park” poked fun at the tendency to consent to such agreements without reading them, when one character discovered that he had inadvertently given Apple the right to surgically transform him into a “product that is part human and part centipede, and part Web browser and part e-mailing device.” In the real world, there has been more discussion of what users could be risking than concrete examples of problems. Much attention has been centered on privacy concerns and the confusing aspects of companies’ privacy policies.
The Free Software Foundation, a digital rights group, recently raised concerns over Nintendo’s 3DS, a hand-held gaming device that can take photos. In the terms of service, Nintendo claims the right to use content from its customers’ devices in a variety of ways, including marketing materials. In a statement, Nintendo said that it did not gain access to user content without permission, and that its terms of service were “consistent with industry norms.”
The agreement between Twitpic and World Entertainment News, said Dan Bailey, a professional photographer from Alaska, provided a solid example of what people have been worried about.
Carolyn E. Wright, a lawyer who writes a blog about legal issues related to photographers, said there were significant differences among the policies of Internet services. Users simply have to read the agreements they are clicking on, she said.
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“You’re acknowledging those terms of services, you’re bound by them,” Ms. Wright said. “Even if you don’t read them.”