Recently, a Nevada photographer found that social networking privacy settings may not seem so cool. She found a photograph of hers she had posted to her profile used in an ad by a sunglasses company she had never heard of. Although this may seem like blatant infringement (as she thought), whether it is may depend on permissions you give to third parties without even knowing it.
How this can happen.
The issue is not about posting pictures online; it’s about access. Our artist thought she was protected. She, like many artists, uploaded many of her photographs into an account she had with one of the many picture hosting websites, and she had a creative commons license for pictures on that website. The problem arose when she set up her account so pictures she posted would also automatically post to her profile on a social networking site. Although the creative commons license covered the pictures on the first site, her privacy settings allowed advertisers access to the photos when they posted on her profile.
In order to make advertisements more tailored to an individual user, social networking sites are utilizing user’s photos to help promote sites, companies, etc. to that user’s friends. In addition, third party advertisers are also gaining access through applications and using photos for their ads (an activity social networking sites claim violates their policies).
Should I run to a computer and change my settings?
Maybe, but not necessarily. The catch is that the default settings can be different sites can be different, even within the same site. For example, social networking sites may require that you affirmatively give a third party access to your profile when you download an application. That same site, though, may have a default setting which gives it open access to your photos (search "social media privacy settings" to find a lot of information on the difference between the two). Therefore, you should understand the privacy options and defaults for any site on which you post your works.
But, whether you want your pictures used depends on your circumstances. On one hand, you may risk giving up control of your work. What right you give an advertiser depends on how the privacy settings are worded. This is especially true for applications which often grant access and possible use of your entire profile. Often, you have no say in what companies may use your works or in what way, and you may not even know who the companies are (especially for access through applications). As our photographer found, she had never heard of the company that was using her photograph. If you have an established portfolio, these uses may also dilute your works’ reputation and could lead to a reduction in the price people are willing to pay for your works.
On the other hand, this may give your works greater exposure. After all, any publicity is good publicity, especially for an up and coming artist. Our photographer found out about the use because a friend was impressed how a company had picked up her photograph. Plus, some companies are willing to negotiate usage rights if the photograph is a good fit for their ads.