Signing Away Your Photography Rights

Should you agree to the terms and conditions of social media influencers with large followers promising your exposure?

Nov 13, 2023 3 minutes

You bought a nice camera and captured an iconic photograph of a beautiful location. It gains the attention of a prominent tourist association with lots of followers, and they ask for permission to feature it on their channels. You’re ecstatic! Somebody has finally noticed your talent, and you’re about to have your image shared with thousands of people! They direct you to a page on their website with their terms and conditions and ask that you tag your photo with #yes"InsertTouristOrgHere" to agree.

Do you accept this Faustian bargain? Have you read their legalese? They all seem to borrow the same egregiously onerous boilerplate. You can see for yourself at these links:

Pure Michigan


They all contain language where you grant them:

…and its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, assigns, licensees, sub-licensees, agents partners an irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, unrestricted, perpetual sub-licensable (through multiple tiers) and transferable right and license to use, copy, transmit, publish or otherwise distribute, modify, create derivative works based upon, incorporate into other works, publicly perform and display the media or any portion thereof, in or through any medium, whether now known or hereafter created (including, but not limited to, on the [their URL] website and digital properties owned or controlled by them, their affiliates or anyone acting on [their] authority, including websites and social media profiles such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram communications, and in emails or other digital and social media communications), for any and all lawful purposes, and agrees to execute documents, instruments or agreements confirming such right and license at [their] reasonable request. You acknowledge that Grantees will rely on this permission potentially at substantial cost to Grantees and you will agree to not assert any claim of any nature whatsoever against anyone related to the exercise of the permissions granted hereunder.

All that to share it on social media? Seems like they’re asking you to grant them quite a few more rights. And I get it, nobody wants to be sued. Their legal counsel likely directed them to use this language, but if photographers could afford legal counsel, they would almost certainly be advised not to sign a contract without a negotiated fee. “Exposure” is nice, but unfortunately, the grocery store doesn’t accept it in exchange for food. Utility companies also tend to frown on that method of payment.

Some photographers are happy to sign their work away for free. They claim the exposure is worth it. Their willingness to capitulate only emboldens those asking for free intellectual property. While I would love to have my work featured, I’m not willing to accept such a raw deal. When asked to feature my work, I usually respond with a polite: “Thanks for complimenting my work. While I’m happy to allow you to share my work on social media, I cannot accept your overreaching terms and conditions. If you modify them to cover only what you’re asking to do, I’d be happy to reconsider.”

Something like this might be acceptable:

Photographer grants @company a one-time use to post the original work on both Facebook and Instagram.

Many of the work featured on these channels are worthy of respect. I just wish photographers respected themselves as much as I do.

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