Is Facebook Trying to Steal Your Pictures?

fb iconI will not waste your time reading the 700 words I have just written and will give a simple answer, No.

As two prominent bloggers on WordPress pointed out to me this week, I am not a lawyer.

“Sigh – another pretend lawyer deciding that a major photographer’s rights organization with REAL lawyers can’t possibly be right.”
Quoted in full in reply to their prominent blog post about Facebook’s Terms of Service and Photos.

Since I am not a Lawyer and never studied law I cannot argue in legalize, I do know that I am able to argue with common sense.

In 2013 there were some changes made to Facebook terms of service and now they are being changed again, ready to be introduced in January 2015.


Source Facebook’s planned terms of service as of January 2015


As a layman the language used can seem confusing. It sounds like all IP (intellectual property, like my pictures) can be used by Facebook anyway they like, up to and including selling them (section 1). These terms have to be written in a far reaching way to ensure that they are not sued by people who find a loophole in the Terms of Service. In 2013 when there were some major changes to the language used in Facebook’s Terms of service, it was partially related to with a court settlement (Farley vs Facebook) and sponsored stories on Facebook ;

“About Advertisements and Other Commercial Content Served or Enhanced by Facebook. As part of a legal settlement, we agreed to further explain how we may use your name, profile picture, content and information in connection with ads or commercial content.

Facebook needs have the terms of service written like this (in section 2 part one of the terms of service) to allow your profile picture to be used in Facebook advertising systems, for example endorsed advertising. This language also allows for future applications being design by Facebook not to be limited by the Terms of Service or having to change the Terms of Service every time.

facebook download

Want to download the image at its original uploaded resolution? Easy, click options and then Download.


There has been talk by some photographers to add big watermarks on images uploaded to Facebook or just linking to the photo off Facebook. Facebook though doesn’t get money from sending you away and wants really to create a closed area that you never have to leave. This is why in the Facebook algorithm original content ranks higher than links. A photo posted gets more views than a post with a link.
Adding a big watermark to an image is great way to protect images, who would want them then? That is exactly the point, who would want to see it? The experience of your friends  and (if you have a blog) your followers is diminished by slapping a huge watermark on an image. It may “protect the image” but in most cases you can’t see the picture. I know for a fact I just scroll past big watermarked images*.


A picture I know was stolen straight off Facebook by a photo thief. When Caught they told me because it was on facebook they thought it was free.

We do need to think about what we put on Facebook. Facebook does strip the metadata from images when they are uploaded, and can be downloaded by anyone who has access to your gallery. Is it a good idea to put some very private pictures on Facebook or even your best work? Using your privacy settings you can control who can see an image and potentially steal it, but should we be putting all our images on Facebook.
Since I am not a Lawyer, I don’t know what the implications are if you have agreed to an exclusive licence for an image to a third party and then upload a picture to Facebook and therefore giving Facebook; a royalty free, non-exclusive, worldwide license, as stated in the Terms of Service.
Maybe we should be less worried about Facebook stealing our pictures and be thinking more about what pictures put on Facebook.

Here is a rational reason why Facebook is not stealing your images; if they did it would be suicide for the site.
We hand over a lot of information to Facebook and because of this we are worth money to Facebook. It may not seem like a huge amount with the average account being worth between $13-$40. Facebook collects information on, where we live, regularly go, where we work, how often we go on holiday and even can calculate roughly our income and expenditures through what we post, like and where we check in; Facebook even knows the type of computer and smart phone you use and how often you upgrade. Due to this we are allowed to use the site for free (source).
There is also an unwritten agreement between us and Facebook, they have this information and we use the site for free, but they can’t overstep the bounds of normalcy. If Facebook started “Stealing” pictures (selling pictures to third parties) it would become national and international news. There would be a huge uproar about privacy concerns and people would want change or leave the service and yes people will leave. Brands are pretty quick to smell what the public are thinking and will pull away from the site as well (Brands pulled adverts from Gawker after the editor promoted bullying ). This would leave Facebook in the position to back pedal or face financial losses.


The Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License Source of base Vector GonnaFly


The other reason why I can say Facebook are not “stealing” your pictures, is in all the Facebook blogs and guides that go along with the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, never mention a word about selling photos and only talk about IP content being used with endorsed advertising (from things you have liked or places you have checked into) and targeted advertising. If you continue using Facebook with this reassurance and then your pictures were sold by Facebook to a third party, I am sure a good lawyer could use it against Facebook. Although not me, as those prominent WordPress bloggers pointed out I am not a Lawyer.

*putting watermarks on pictures is personal choice and I have gone around the houses back and forth and I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to watermark an image.

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If you wish to get notifications when I post on my blog, you can follow me on Twitter@apertureF64, on or alternatively be emailed by subscribing below. All images are the Copyright of Benjamin Rowe , ALL RIGHTS Reserved unless credited to another photographer. For more information please read my Copyright Statement

17 thoughts on “Is Facebook Trying to Steal Your Pictures?

  1. It amazes me still the images (and information) that some people put on Facebook and then wonder why when something goes wrong because of it. When I post to FB I don’t put up my best work (reserved for online portfolio) or in some cases I’ve even taken a shot of the shot (when it’s something framed) and uploaded it. But I have seen some watermarks that obscured the image and others that were very subtle. Personal choice.

  2. I wouldn’t use the world steal since we agree to their TOS which means they can use them within FB. I just won’t post there anymore unless they are links to my website or iphone photos I don’t care about. It’s the principle of the matter to me.

    • Hi Laura, I can understand the principle of not wanting images used in a way you can’t control. Although the images that are used are only the profile pictures you set and not all the pictures in the galleries.

      • Why am I not convinced? I think Facebook has done it so it’s a disservice with the way their privacy settings have been in the past. I just can’t get past it myself actually. I don’t trust him and I never will. And actually I think that’s a good thing. It makes me more aware of what I am putting on social media.

      • Laura I think your skepticism is well placed. We should all be aware that changes can happen quite quickly. I know I have written in defense of Facebook, but I would never say that you can trust a company that has so much information about us. We all need to be aware of what we are handing over to sites like facebook and keep our eyes and ears open about future changes.

  3. Hi Ben, most of my images are links from the blog, so I am not too worried about my images. I don’t really think it is the images that they are interested in, but the personal info, they will make more money selling demographic information to advertisers. I believe this is the info they really want.

    • You are right the infomation you supply is richer than the images but people have been up on arms more about their pictures than anything else. The only pictures that they utilitise for ads is your profile picture.

  4. Hey Ben…I enjoyed this post…thanks for the thoughts! I don’t put anything of any value on Facebook, that includes information or photos. Just not my way of doing things. It surprises me some of the personal info I see there…makes me shake my head!

    • Hi Heather, even from the smallest amount of info they can discern a lot of information. Simple things about places you log in to Facebook from and even who your friends are. It does amaze me as well the amount of personal things written on Facebook and just like you I do shake my head. I also find it strange that people have been in an uproar about photos and not the far reaching way that information is collected and then packaged for advertisers.

  5. I guess it is not ‘stealing’ if you give away your rights 🙂 – by accepting their terms you are granting them a licence. Future monetisation of the IP licensed to FB could be a concern though. Yahoo! has started selling prints of CC-licensed work uploaded to Flickr with no revenue going back to the IP owner. What they are doing is perfectly legal and it is the photographers responsibility to understand the implications of the way they license their work there. (see

    A picture I know was stolen straight off Facebook by a photo thief. When Caught they told me because it was on facebook they thought it was free.

    This is a big concern. General appreciation by the public of the legal issues surrounding copying images from the internet is very low indeed in my experience. I’ve had many of my images stolen and used in commercial web sites as well as on blogs and so on. When confronted, a typical response from the copyright thieves was that they had only copied the image “from Google”. It seems to me that for many people all images they can see when doing a Google Images search can be used however they like.

    • What Flicker is doing is slightly different as you said since they are using the license the photographer has chosen for the image, although it is a little sneaky and I have heard many photogs taking down pictures and re-uploading them with new licensing attribution.
      Facebook though is a different beast to Flicker and if they did sell peoples pictures there would be a bigger up roar even though people have signed up to the terms of service. Future monetization of photos on Facebook will be very hard indeed.

      Photo theft from the non internet educated is a bigger problem most winging it hoping they will never be caught. Stealing straight off Facebook is ballsy because you can see that the picture belongs to a person.

      As I have said to others this is something we should be conscious of and always aware that there maybe changes in the future.

  6. Ben, thanks for your thoughts and research here.
    Its good to understand things a bit better.
    Since the last changes, I no longer post or share anything important.
    Presently just use it for ‘social’ 😀

  7. What no one ever thinks about is what happens to all their content once they die/suspend/delete/no longer use their FB accounts. All that info is in FB’s vast servers and can be used by them for whatever they want forever… Is Facebook even really a viable option for creating traffic for one’s art? I don’t really think so, in fact, I would wager that most people that have a look at our blogs or websites don’t go anywhere near our facebook accounts… As for me, I’m seriously thinking about shutting it down because it’s more trouble than it’s worth…

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