WEDDING SEASON SALE! 30% Off Training Systems!

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds
Insights & Thoughts

Is Facebook Stealing Your Photographs?

By Hanssie on May 13th 2015

Yesterday, the internet was in abuzz with news that Facebook was taking ownership of your photographs when you uploaded them. It stemmed from a post from Stop Stealing Photos (which you can read here), where a representative from Facebook that stated to them in an email,

…once something is posted or uploaded onto Facebook it becomes Facebook’s property. So if the original photographer uploaded the photo first onto Facebook and then others have taken it from there and uploaded it to their pages or profiles, this is legal and within policy, there’s nothing I can do about it unfortunately even if they are taking credit for the photos.

Imagine the uproar that ensued.


We live in a world of terms and conditions which are pages and pages long. Because of the bombardment of information that is flung at us daily, we filter out most of it, and check the conveniently placed box that says ‘I Agree’ without actually reading what we are agreeing to. In this TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) generation, we trust that companies have our best interest in mind, when really, we know better. But what does it really say in those terms and are we really giving Facebook permission to take our photos?

The short answer is no. In an update on the same post, Stop Stealing Photos dug further and was contacted by another member of the Facebook staff. He confirmed that the original employee was misinformed and clarified by saying,

Our terms are clear that you own the content you share on Facebook, including photos. When you post something, you simply grant Facebook a license to use that content consistent with our terms, including displaying it to the audience you’ve shared it with.

We also prohibit people from posting content that violates someone else’s intellectual property rights. If a rights owner believes that content on Facebook violates their rights, they may report it to us. You can find more information about this topic here:

iagreeFacebook And PayPal are NOT Stealing Your Photos

Rachel Brenke, aka ‘The Law Tog,’ who has provided some wonderful resources for photographers in regards to contracts, copyright and other lawyerly things, cleared up the issue on her website in this very informative article. For those of you who are thinking tl;dr (ironically), Rachel talks about the differences between license and ownership release and clarifies that Facebook and Paypal’s terms state a “license for use of the intellectual property is being used, and not an ownership transfer.

Rachel further clarifies that Facebook and Paypal (under fire a few weeks ago for its recent terms and conditions update) does not own any of your intellectual property. The main takeaway is that as a business owner, you MUST be informed and read up on what you agree to when you “sign” those terms and conditions.


Rachel also shares the following eye-opening video called #PrivacyProject, where people were asked to read aloud some of the terms from apps they had agreed to from their smartphone. Watch it below and then go visit Rachel’s post to read in detail about license versus ownership release and the importance of knowing what you are agreeing to, especially as a business owner.

To see more of the legal resources, Rachel has to offer, check out her extensive inventory of documents created specifically for photographers here.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Sam Mollaei, Esq

    It’s really good to know everything from here about stealing photographs by facebook and whatever I knew from here all are very much helpful:)

    | | Edited  
  2. Tosh Cuellar

    good info, thanks for the update, glad they took the time to dig a little deeper

    | |
  3. norman tesch

    i am to the point of i only upload stuff i have no intetion of printing anyway. if i do shoot something i deem worth selling i only put a link so they have to go to my site to view it and purchase.

    | |
  4. Ralph Hightower

    To parody the video game (I don’t know which game): “All your base belong to us!”

    Facebook: “All your photos belong to us!”

    | |
  5. Paddy McDougall

    As soon as you put something on the internet you lose control over it. If you don’t want people copying or stealing your work stick to print or have a copyright lawyer in your family. It’s a trade ‘free’ service for use. No one forces us to put photos on the net. Personally I have gained more from using the internet in regard to photography than lost so I am kinda biased.

    | |
  6. Rob Harris

    Read the fine print. It has kept me from using several services such as Instagram because I refuse to give them my property.

    | |
  7. Lester Terry


    | |
  8. Ed Rhodes

    you still own the rights to your image, but by posting anything you give Facebook unlimited right to use it, and the license that you give to Facebook is transferable to anyone. This is the part of the terms of service that should be on every photographer’s mind.

    | |
    • Stan Rogers

      It’s how Facebook works. Besides needing to display your image, they also need to scale, crop and make assemblages for various feeds and gallery formats. For “transferable”, read “Share” (and the possibility that the legal entity that is Facebook might be acquired by, merge with or become another legal entity). Yes, you do need to keep the ramifications in mind, but you also need to keep in mind the sort of licensing that’s actually *required* in order for your social media marketing to work. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and if you want the crowd effect and virality that social media provide, you’ve got to allow all of the things that make it work.

      | |
    • Anders Madsen

      I don’t think the transferable part is the most problematic – the way I understand it, the ability to sub-license content is far worse since it basically allows Facebook to license YOUR images to another entity:

      “A sublicense agreement is an agreement by which the licensee (as sublicensor) grants to someone else (as sublicensee) some of the licensee’s rights.”

      This – as I understand it – means that Facebook can take the royalty-free, worldwide license you just granted them, and offer the same (or less) rights to someone else – e.g. someone producing a mouse mat, a coffee mug, a poster or a million other things with YOUR image on it – all they need to do is to obtain (and probably pay for) a sub-license from Facebook.

      No, to the best of my knowledge, such a sub-license cannot be obtained at this moment, but legally there is nothing preventing it as far as I can tell.

      | |
    • Dave Haynie

      This isn’t new, and isn’t much less confusing that it’s always been. Pretty much any online service is going to have a similar license. Looking at the wording in Facebook’s current agreement, they’ve already been through this at least once.

      Simply put, they’re covering their asses. They’re not claiming any ownership of your photo or other IP. But in order to do anything with it, they have to have a licence to do that. In order to copy the photo from one computer or storage medium to another (such as in the course backup, routing that image to the proper web server, etc), they have to be licensed to do that. If they were to contract out some of these services to other companies, they require the right to sublicense it. They’re likely to crop it and/or display information over the image (for locating people and the other stuff Facebook does), that means they need a license to modify the image, even temporarily. Without this license, you could actually upload images and then sue Facebook for using them in their intended fashion.

      The bottom line is this: “This IP license ends when you delete your IP content”. That’s what you’re looking for. That means they have no control over the image beyond your control over the image.

      | |
    • Dave Haynie

      @Anders Madsen… the license you grant Facebook ends when you delete your photograph. That would make the kind of sublicensing you’re suggesting impossible, or at least very ill-advised. Let’s say Facebook did sublicense your image to, say, Cafe Press, and they produced 1,000,000 T-Shirts and Coffee Mugs with that image. Now you delete it from Facebook, and their license is terminated, and the sublicense is terminated, and since Facebook knew that could happen, all of those imaged products are now something you can sue Facebook and Cafe Press over. That’s clearly not why they want the license, that’s clear from the rest of the Facebook licensing agreement, and they would lose this case in court.

      Far as preventing photo theft, not a whole lot you can do about that once the content is online. Watermarks and/or lower-resolution versions are the best bet here, if you want it displayed. Even if the service doesn’t make grabbing the image easy, if a person can see it on their PC, they have a JPEG or PNG or whatever of that image somewhere on their PC.

      | |
    • Anders Madsen

      @Dave Haynie
      I’ll be damned. One single comment has laid every worry I have regarding Facebook stealing my content to rest.

      You’re spot on – if I can revoke my license by removing the photo from Facebook, they cannot in any way risk sub licensing it for any kind of widespread reproduction.

      And yes, content theft is still a problem, but that is hard to do something about except for watermarks and the like, but that I can live with.

      | |
  9. Thomas Horton

    I believe that “representative” was actually from the sales department… not exactly a historically accurate sourced for corporate information.

    I hope this sales person was properly reprimanded for making such statements without knowing the actual policy.

    | |