on uploads

Yesterday Instagram changed their “Terms of Use” and it caused a furore! Yes Instagram are owned now by Facebook but the ‘who has what rights over my shit’ issue goes far beyond just their combined platforms.

Firstly, a perfectly timed word from our friend, Tom Scott:

1. When you upload “your shit” [text, photos, video, WHATFUCKINGEVER] to the internet, you give away certain rights.

You don’t think you’re doing it most of the time and some of those rights are more perceived than actual, but regardless, the best way to think about it is that you do.

When you let a thought go outside of your brain or out of your hands it becomes available to other people. Once that happens you don’t get to control what happens. (It sounds kinda simple when you put it like that, doesn’t it?).

1a. The UPSIDE to uploading “your shit” is that other people see it. This is great because it means someone useful MIGHT POSSIBLY MAYBE see “your shit”, which is (possibly) what you want. It might even go viral! (But it probably won’t).

1b. The DOWNSIDE to uploading “your shit” is that once your stuff is out there, other people might not consider contacting you personally first to ask your permission about where they put “your shit” or what they might do to “your shit” in order for it to fit into “their world” [their blog, video, political sign, commercial advertising campaign, tattoo, WHATFUCKINGEVER].

…ok, now pay attention because this one matters….




3. OK, I lied.

There’s another way. It’s a little bit more complicated, though.


  • That means, instead of hitting “accept” when you register with some new funky cool online service or application, actually READ the boring legal thing it shows you first. The chances are somewhere in that legalese it’s saying that you have either GIVEN THEM OWNERSHIP or (more likely) you have GIVEN THEM A LICENSE to use whatever that is – and sometimes that means they can SELL IT TO MAKE MONEY THEMSELVES, without needing to come back and ask you again, and without needing to give you any of that money. Sucks, eh?
  • What’s possibly more annoying is that if you already have an account (even if you haven’t touched it for years) they might have rights to that too.
  • btw, In case you were wondering, after signing the contract (aka “clicking accept”) you CANNOT reverse that contract through a status update.

3b. Secondly, you have to THINK BEFORE YOU UPLOAD every photo/thought/whatever.

  • Partly this is just social responsibility: that funny photo where you caught your friend asleep in bed with their ass hanging out? Do you think publishing it online will A: make them happy & love you more or B: really upset them and cause them years of unnecessary grief? Or C: perhaps you don’t care (in which case your friend should soon find out what a loner-loser-douchebag you really are – #suckstobeyou).
  • Partly this is just sensible attention paid to the marketplace in which we choose to exhibit/sell/promote our products: you have finished your new painting that will be for sale. Do you A: post a high-res photo on fb saying “yay look what i made” or B: upload it to your professional portfolio on your own blog (or equivalent professional showcase like flickr) from where you and others can share watermarked/lo-res versions, or possibly even enable people to buy prints.

3c. Thirdly, for artists & professionals this is just knowing the spaces you have available & the use you want to grant other people. Are you looking to use social media to help your work go viral? It IS possible, you just need to be smart about it. You wouldn’t leave a painting in a high street and expect it to be there, un-edited when you return, right? So why treat the internet any differently?

  • Set up a digital space of your own – maybe your own blog, or maybe FlickrDeviant, Behance, Etsy… whatever.
  • Publish hi-res/lo-res/watermarked/sample versions of your work on there, so everyone knows they can come find you directly.
  • If appropriate, set up Creative Commons [CC] licensing for your work. This shows, at the very least, that anyone who loves your images can reshare them legally and help you spread the word about your work. [Don’t know about CC? well they’ve been around 10yrs now so you should trust ’em. I sure do.].
  • Once you have some solid host for your work, SHARE (the links, not the images) on ALL your social media feeds.

Facebook (and others) cannot possibly claim rights to any content that is LINKED to them, only that which you UPLOADED to them. Can’t link on Instagram? Well then make a new ‘shot’ by uploading that image from within the app so that a low-res version exists in that feed and gets shared out across all the viral spaces it pushes to without losing the hi res original. Still concerned? Then watermark it first.

4. Still really worried by the recent change to “TOU” (terms of use) recently declared by Instagram & what that could mean for your own account/photos?

That’s understandable. It’s not the first time: check out how the artist bill of rights kicked Pinterest’s ass. Dropbox got drop-kicked when they tried to change their TOU last year and quickly edited things. But regardless of what turnaround or not Instagram make here, they’re not alone. None of these little glitches will stop commercial fuckwits completely missing the point of social in the future. So I encourage you to be aware of the fine print.

4a. If you are getting a free service: YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. Believe it or not, YOU have value. Everything you upload/share/comment/like has its own value and you are giving that value away every time you contribute ANYTHING on those platforms.

4b. If you DO NOT want your instagram photos being pwned by someone else, you have the right to remove them &/or close your account. But you MUST DO SO BEFORE JANUARY 16TH or they have it all. Want help? Use one of the export services like Instaport (which is a little busy right now so you might need to be patient). [thanks James]

4c. If you decide to leave them there, you need to be aware that (after Jan 16th) they can re-use any of your public work, even if you didn’t have the rights to show that in the first place, and even if you close your account after that date.

5. No one likes to be the responsible one, but you know what: TOUGH SHIT.

I’m repeatedly seeing on fb that people are ‘too cautious’ to want to share info about hoaxes, etc, online. I’ve been told frequently that “I am glad you shared that because I’ve been shouted at for patronising people when I previously shared similar info”.

This is bullshit.

What happens is that ‘people who know’ all too often point and laugh at the mistakes ‘people who don’t know’ make.

No one takes responsibility.

When i was younger and went out partying we had a code of ethics with the possee: we took care of each other. But in social media we seem to have forgotten the “social”.

If someone posts a photo of someone’s arse we “like” and “comment” and “share”, making sure it appears even more than the original mistake or cruel joke. We don’t teach each other about privacy or about rights, because they’re boring and grownup. 

Social spaces online are [oddly?] like social spaces physically – if you care about your community (wherever they exist) you should help them learn about making themselves (and their own work) safe and given the best possible opportunity.

Rant over. But srsly folks. The only way we make a world we want to live in is by living the life we think should be lived. I might sound like an old hippy, but ffs… take care of each other regardless of whether they’re in Geek or Physical contexts…OK?

This post, like almost all of my posts, is Creative Commons licensed under a BY: SA license. This means that I invite you to share the fuck outta this post (and many others) providing you ATTRIBUTE me (aka: say “i got this from Fee Plumley” and ideally link to the post/image you sourced from) and SHARE ALIKE (aka: don’t tell people that they cannot share the work you used from me). You can edit it too – which means that yes I run the risk of you posting something that looks almost entirely like the thing I said but may be slightly different  But I’m pretty sure that any smart human will either check here or with me personally to make sure I haven’t in fact said something bizarre.  Or will know that any bizarreness was entirely my own, as usual. KTHXBAI.


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