A photo posted on Facebook leads to allegations of art theft
COOL. White background. A young, attractive woman. Pouty smile. Large, green-framed, dark-lensed, who’s-that-behind-those Foster Grant sunglasses. The photograph, which emphasizes color, composition and attitude, looks like a professionally taken piece of stock art. The green letters C and L bookend the bug-eyed lenses. COOL. Get it?
This shot would look great as a dominant element on any display advertisement, particularly one that’s designed to reach a younger audience, the type who might buy eyeglasses on the internet.
In fact, the photograph does look great, and for a short time, it could be seen as a “Social Ad” on Facebook, promoting a business called GlassesShop.com.
The picture was taken by a professional photographer, the Reno News & Review’s staff photographer Lauren Randolph. The recent University of Nevada, Reno graduate is also the model in the image. She’d never heard of GlassesShop.com or even Facebook’s Social Ads.
Social Ads may use a Facebook user’s name or face to sell products for participating businesses. (Or a friend’s name and face if posted to Facebook, even if posted without the friend’s knowledge.) If a Facebook user takes some action—posting an image, attending a movie, becoming a fan of a business, taking a quiz, etc.—Facebook will exploit the user’s information for promotion of the business. The relationship between the Facebook activity and the product can be gossamer.
Facebook members may opt out of the program by following labyrinthine steps; a series of Facebook wall reposts have been making the rounds this week that describe the method. (“WARNING! Facebook has agreed to let third party advertisers use your posted pictures without your permission. Click on SETTINGS up at the top where you see the log out link. Select PRIVACY. Then select NEWS FEEDS AND WALL. Next select the tab that reads FACE BOOK ADS. There is a drop down box, select NO ONE. Then SAVE your changes.) Privacy advocates say the Facebook users should be allowed to opt in, as many people are unaware of the company’s program, and so their image may be used without the Facebooker’s consent or knowledge.
Randolph first heard of the ad on July 16 through—where else—a Facebook friend.
“A friend of mine sent me a comment that was basically, ‘Hey, I was cruising Facebook and did a double-take. I saw your face on the side,’ said Randolph. “She recognized the photo from my Flickr page. She did a screengrab and posted it on my wall, more thinking that she found something I was a part of. So I went and looked and saw it, and it was a little ad that had my picture, and it had ‘Facebook, YouTube, Myspace’ all these different logos on it, and it said, ‘GlassesShop.’ I went immediately to the website and found their blog, their Flickr page and all these other uses where they took that same picture off of Facebook and used it for other things, too.”
And that’s where Randolph believes acceptable use and copyright infringement collided. She’d posted the image on Flickr, a photo-sharing and storage website, which autoposts to her Facebook wall.
“On Flickr, [photos] are under a ‘creative commons copyright license,’ which I can adjust. All of mine are ‘all rights reserved.’ I don’t even do the ‘some rights reserved’ because I want complete control of all my images. … I understand when you post to Facebook, you give Facebook permission to use your images, unless you turn your setting off. So, I can’t get mad at him [GlassesShop owner] for using it on a Facebook ad, but then he also used it for his Facebook profile and for all his other websites. And that’s why, when he’s telling me it must have been a mistake, and it’s just his friends doing online promotion, I know that can’t be true because all this work needed to take this image and use it.”
Randolph complained to Facebook, which got near immediate results with the removal of the Social Ad. She also sent a complaint and demand for removal of her image to the GlassesShop website. Her friends also began posting angry messages on the company’s Facebook wall, and as Randolph says, Twitter exploded with nasty tweets against the eyeglass company. Upon this newspaper’s request for contact information for company CEO Steven Chen, the GlassesShop Facebook site was disabled, and a new one, GlassesShop Boss, began communicating with Randolph. Due to the privacy policies of Facebook, there is no way of establishing this is indeed someone named Steven Chen. The grammatical errors in the correspondence below are from the posting:
“GlassesShop Boss Hello, Lauren. I make sure that all photots ,if associated with you. will be removed within one hour. Again sorry to you. You can check right then. But I really favor your nice photos. We would provide you with a plan for payment. Just want to invent you as our partner. What do you think about it?”
Whoever it is refuses to communicate with Randolph privately. The other uses of the photo continue, despite the fact that more than a week has passed. No payment has been arranged. The contact telephone number for GlassesShop was not working when calls were made for comment.
Other information also tends to discredit GlassesShop Boss’ claims of accidental use. For example, the site also used the work of a Las Vegas photographer Jason James Skinner. Skinner has verified that the company never bought rights or asked permission to use the image.
“I was aware but didn’t have my Facebook preference changed,” said the normally cheerful Randolph, who emphasized that a reputable company may pay thousands for exclusive use of an advertising image. “I may be at fault for allowing Facebook permission. I have since changed my settings. I wouldn’t have let Facebook use my work, but if that’s something that’s there, and I didn’t just read things, then fine, they can have that free little Facebook ad for a second. That’s since been resolved, but it’s still not OK for GlassesShop to steal it and use it for anything else.”