Friday, June 12, 2009

So, Your Facebook Pic Was Stolen and Used in an Ad

I saw this video on today. An American woman, Danielle Smith of St. Louis, Mo., discovered from a friend in the Czech Republic that the picture of her family that she posted on Facebook was being used in for a supermarket print advertisement in that country.

It's possible the supermarket can get away with stealing the photo because it's located in a foreign country. Smith thinks that the company was so brazen because it assumed she'd never find out. Nevertheless, it is a copyright violation.
Danielle had also put the picture on her blog, a site she says she started to help other mom learn to appreciate how important being a mom is.

"I put it out there," she says of the Christmas photo, "just saying this is my family."

Her "happy family" according to a Google image search where the photo pops up, which may be how the photo found its way into the ad, or stock photo web site, which would at least infringe on the copyright of photographer Gina Kelly of O'Fallon, Missouri. (Story at
Smith doesn't seem upset in the video. She's relieved her family's image was used for a benign ad. We can chalk this matter up to one of the problems you can experience in our brave new age of the Internet, and then credit the Internet with providing a solution, social media. Social media reconnected Smith to the friend who saw the ad in the Czech Republic and told her.

Months ago the blogosphere buzzed with controversy over who owns work and photos posted on websites, the individual who posted the content or the website where the content is posted. Facebook was at the center of the controversy when its revamped terms of service came under scrutiny.

Most people don't read terms of service when they sign up for websites, especially "free" websites, but usually the TOS allows the website owner to use anything posted on the site for the website owner's promotion. In Smith's case, Facebook itself was not the culprit but an unrelated company, and the appropriation of the family photo highlights another concern of Internet users, that many people believe that if anything's posted online it's free and they can cut, lift, and paste it for their own use. Wrong!

Content belongs to the person who originally created it. It's acceptable to quote or excerpt brief passages and use thumbnails or smaller versions of pictures provided you give credit to artists and writers, but owners sometimes fight even this. The AP, for instance, has been challenging bloggers for so much as linking to its stories without approval.

For larger excerpts or whole poems, full-size photos, etc., it's wise to get permission. And certainly, never present the work of others without crediting the creator or author. If it appears you're taking credit for its creation, then that's plagiarism.

Still, the website where the work is posted may legally be able to use anything you've posted publicly if you agreed to the terms of service that said so. Remember that.

I've run into a website using my work or image without notifying me or asking permission twice online since 2002. Once I was ego surfing my name, something you should do sometimes to see if anyone's misrepresenting you online or if you've outgrown an image you once had and want to change, and I came across a social network website's ad that was using my old picture and voice to draw people to its dating feature. I went in and deleted everything and eventually the ad disappeared.

Another time a poetry website started using my voice reciting a poem written by Aberjhani to promote a spoken word feature. I stumbled across the audio file on another website where the poetry site was launching the new feature, and then I asked them to take it down. The owner reminded me of the site's terms of service and that I had agreed to let them use my work for promotion.

Fortunately for me, I too had read the terms of service and told them that the audio file they were using had never been posted publicly, that one of their staff members had gone into my private storage area and taken the file. So, they took it down.

Anyway, watch the CNN video. How would you feel if what happened to Smith happened to you?

For more information on protecting your work and photos online, I recommend Melanie Nelson's article at BlogHer, "Choosing Copyright or Creative Commons for your Intellectual Property."

1 comment:

Mom101 said...

Ack ack ack! I still am reeling from Fox sports stealing Sweetney's photo of her dog, photoshopping a santa hat on it, and using it on their holiday broadcasts. They messed with the wrong blogger, as you can imagine.