header image by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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You may have seen the meme, a photograph next to a dropdown menu asking the question “What’s going on?” with the box for “I’m in this photo, and I don’t like it” selected. However, what may seem like harmless fun reveals a darker side to social media and copyright, because posting a photograph of somebody without their consent can have serious legal ramifications.
In this article, we will uncover the history behind this meme, and what it means for copyright, as well as what you can do if you find yourself in an image you didn’t consent to.
“What’s Going On?” – A History Of The Meme
In the early 2010s on Facebook, when a user flagged a photograph as inappropriate they were given the option “I’m in this photo, and I don’t like it” which allowed users to hide images uploaded by others from their timelines. In order to access the option, the user would have to open the dropdown menu next to the photograph to report the image and select “I don’t want to see this,” which would display a selection screen with multiple options to choose from.
It is unclear when the screenshot of the Facebook reporting menu first became a meme. However, the first widely recorded usage was in August 2014 when the online publication Men’s Humor created a meme post using the screenshot as a punchline.
After 2016, the meme went truly viral, and the screenshot was widely used on social media as a reaction image, accompanied by a humorous photo of some sort. The screenshot was often edited to show options like “I’m Not In This Photo, and I Think I Should Be” and “I’m Not In This Photo, and I Don’t Like It.”
However, what became a popular meme started life as a privacy reporting tool on Facebook, and because the problem exists, the meme exists. So, if the meme becomes your reality, what should you do?
“I’m In This Photo And I Don’t Like It” – What it really says about people’s fears of appearing in photos without their permission
Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash
Photos of people posted online without their permission is a common problem, so common that it became a popular internet meme.
In terms of the law, the problem incorporates several legal principles, including the protection of personal privacy and data.
If somebody took a photo of you in a public place and uploaded it to social media, the law can be quite complex and can often rule in favor of the individual who uploaded it. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions.
For example, after the paparazzi took pictures of model Naomi Campbell arriving at a Narcotic Anonymous meeting in a public place, the model won a privacy breach case against the Daily Mirror because she was photographed in a situation where she reasonably expected a certain level of privacy.
According to Data Protection law, you have the right not to have your data collected, published, or otherwise processed without your consent. Photographs fall under this category since they contain your image. However, there is an exemption from the Data Protection Acts for art or journalism.
Laws relating to data protection are part of European Union law, so the principles are the same throughout Europe. However, as you will see below, things are somewhat different in the United States.
What rights do I have for unauthorized use of a photo featuring you on the Internet?
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash
The mere sight of your photos online can cause a great deal of anxiety. When someone takes a picture with you in the background or without asking your permission, you might wonder what your options are.
Pictures taken without your consent or knowledge and posted online can be distressing, whether it is of you looking worse for wear in a nightclub, a critical review of you at work, or photos of your children. For the poster, it may be a good idea to take these pictures down immediately, and for those featured in the image, it may be possible to file a lawsuit against the original poster.
However, many factors determine what actions you can take. Listed below are the various situations you can find yourself in and some advice you can follow.
- The First Amendment
In the US, according to the First Amendment, when images are posted to social media by the original author, they have the right to exercise freedom of speech and to freely share their images. This is one of the reasons why Facebook introduced their “I’m this photo and I don’t like it” reporting option. However, you are not entirely powerless if you find yourself in this situation.
- Your Photo Was Posted By A Friend Or Family Member
If you know the person who took the photograph, you may want to ask them to remove it. However, in most cases, such images are taken on their property, such as at a gathering or party and they have the right to do so. Because, when you agree to enter their home, you are giving them some rights. So the best bet is to appeal to them directly.
- A Stranger Posted The Photo
It can get complicated here. When a stranger takes photos of you outdoors, you are giving your consent by being in a public place. However, you may have some rights if someone takes a picture of you on private property without your consent.
For example, a stranger takes a photo of you while you are in your private home. In that case, this may constitute an invasion of privacy. The only exception to this is a picture of your house without you in it, such as a picture of you mowing your lawn.
- Your Photo Was Posted By An Event Venue Or Bar
Depending on the venue, certain rules may apply to photographs taken without your knowledge. Many of these events have photo policies, such as a pub crawl warning participants that photographers will be taking event photos throughout the night.
It may be enough to contact management to remove event images from their Facebook page or website. However, you may have some legal recourse if the photo is being for commercial purposes.
- Your Photo Is Being Used In Advertisements
In the event that your photos appear in an ad campaign, a print ad, or any online advertisement, you should take legal action. If a person or business makes money from your image, you have rights to legal compensation regarding this commercial use.
- If You Feel Wronged by a Photo, Take Action
If you come across a photo of yourself that you don’t want public, you should take action, and one of the many steps you can take is sending a DMCA takedown.
Send a DMCA takedown
Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash
Maybe the poster doesn’t have permission to use your photo. Maybe it’s a photo of you they shouldn’t see. No matter where it is on social media, you have the right to have it removed if it was used without your permission.
In this situation, the DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, is your best friend. A copyright infringement becomes illegal under this law, and you can seek a retraction for it.
The best course of action is to issue a DMCA takedown notice if your copyright has been violated or your work has been used without permission by an American website. Here’s a handy guide to help you decide when – and how – to do it.
What Is DMCA Protection?
Photo by Jackie Hope on Unsplash
In 1998, the DMCA was passed, providing protection for copyrighted works online, establishing the legal foundations of digital rights management, and increasing penalties for copyright infringement.
It is true that copyright exists from the moment a work is created, but DMCA protection can function as a sort of double defense or as a viable option when legal remedies or limited (see when we recommend issuing a DMCA takedown below).
When issued with a takedown, the ISP removes the offending copy and notifies the website owner. You can decide what to do if the owner sends a counter-notice. Make sure you are doing everything correctly by hiring an attorney to guide you through this process.
Under the DMCA, it is illegal to copy DMCA-protected works, whether they are articles, audio recordings, images, or videos, and it is also prohibited to produce and distribute technology, devices, or services that circumvent copyright protection measures.
Social media copyright on different social networks
Protecting your intellectual property and privacy on social media is as simple as not posting it there in the first place.Despite the fact that the content falls under your ownership, you are still allowing the social media site to use it by posting it in the first place.
Using a service like Pixsy, you can keep an eye out for possible violations and file complaints as soon as possible. You may not be able to prove your claims if you are not vigilant. How does copyright work across the most popular social media sites? Let’s take a look.
Copyright and social media sites
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest allow users to post copyrighted material online. It is the owner of the work that has been posted on the social media site that retains the copyright. By posting works on the site, you are agreeing to a license that allows the site to use the work for various purposes.
The Twitter Terms of Service state, “Content is the sole responsibility of the person who originated the Content,” but they reserve the right to remove content that violates the User Agreement. Twitter says that if you believe your content has been copied in a way that “constitutes copyright infringement,” you can file a report here.
Where the meme first started, on Facebook the Terms of Service state that “you own the intellectual property rights to the content you create and share on Facebook and other Facebook products. You can share your content with anyone else, any time you want.” In return, Facebook says, “you must agree to give them a license to use the content. Specifically, a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content.”
How to flag inappropriate content on social media
Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash
There is no shortage of privacy and safety tools on social media, and if you are looking for ideas, start by checking out the tools on each social media platform. Listed below are some tips for flagging inappropriate content on social media.
Reporting content will send a report to an Instagram team to review the content and determine whether or not it goes against Community Guidelines. The content will still be publicly viewable until it is determined to go against the Community Guidelines. This review process can take anywhere from several days to weeks. How to do it:
- Report a post: Select the menu (…) button > Select “Report”> Choose if the post is “Spam” or “Inappropriate” to submit.
- Report an individual’s profile: Select the menu (…) button > Select “Report”> Choose if the profile is “Spam” or “Inappropriate” to submit.
- Report a comment: Swipe left on the comment > Select the exclamation mark button > Select “Report This Comment”> Choose if the comment is “Spam” or “Inappropriate” to submit.
- Report a direct message: Select the Information (i) button > Select “Report”> Choose if the message is “Spam” or “Inappropriate” to submit.
Reporting content on Twitter will send a report to a Twitter team to review and determine if it complies with Twitter policies. After submitting a report, Twitter will send a notification within 24 hours confirming receipt of the report. If Twitter determines that the content is in violation of its policies, it will take action ranging from a warning to suspending the account. How to do it:
- Report a post: Select the dropdown arrow icon > Report > Select “It’s abusive or harmful”> Select how the post is harmful > Twitter may also ask you to select additional posts from the individual’s profile that engage in abusive or harmful behaviors; you can skip this step by selecting “Skip” or add any Tweets which fit the report > Check or uncheck whether you want updates from Twitter to include the original posts.
- Report an individual’s account: Select the menu (…) button > Report > Select “It’s abusive or harmful”> Select how the account is harmful > Twitter may also ask you to select additional posts from the individual’s profile which engage in abusive or harmful behaviors; you can skip this step by selecting “Skip” or add any Tweets that fit the report > Check or uncheck whether you want updates from Twitter to include the original posts.
- Report a direct message: Select the information (i) button > Report @username > Select how the message is harmful > Twitter may also ask you to select additional messages from the conversation which engage in abusive or harmful behaviors; you can skip this step by selecting “Skip” or add any messages which fit the report > Check or uncheck whether you want updates from Twitter to include the original posts.
When flagging content on Facebook, a report will be sent to a Facebook team to review the content and determine whether or not it goes against Community Standards. The content will remain publicly viewable until it is determined to go against Community Standards. This review process can take anywhere from several days to weeks. Here’s how to do it:
- Report an individual’s post: Select the menu (…) button in the upper right corner > Select “Find support or report post”> Select any categories that the post contains that go against Community Standards > Select “Next” to submit.
- Report a specific comment:
Hold down the comment until a menu of options appears > Select “Find Support or Report Comment”> Select any categories that the post contains which go against Community Standards > Select “Next” to submit.
- Report a private message: Go to the specific conversation to report > “Privacy and Support”> “Something’s Wrong”> Select a category and click “Next”> Select “Send Feedback” to submit.
How photo copyright and social media infringement is policed and what you can do about it
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash
In today’s digital age, photographers and visual artists primarily use social media to promote their work. You can boost visibility and get your work in front of global audiences using platforms like Instagram. However, according to Pixsy’s image theft report, 49 percent of bloggers and social media users reported copyright violations across social media.
It’s a common misconception that uploading your work to social media means you give up your copyright and are powerless if someone uses it without your permission. The copyright to the original content remains with the original user according to almost every social media site’s terms and conditions. There is no legal or other distinction between social media copyright and image copyright. Social media is all about free access, but that doesn’t mean “free to use.”
The best way to prevent your images from being stolen is to use a service like Pixsy that monitors the web for the use of your work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. By using Pixsy, you can easily find instances on social media and elsewhere where your photos have been used without permission or a license and decide on the next steps to take.
You can use Pixsy’s Takedown service, sending legally binding takedown notices to any site globally, to have your image removed. The notices meet the requirements of more than 35 countries and are translated into 14 languages using the power of AI.
If you’d like to know more about your alternative options, check out our article on what to do when your work is stolen.
For more information about social media copyright, start here.
If I Report A Post On Facebook, Is It Anonymous?
If something is reported to Facebook, they will review it and take appropriate action if they determine it violates their Community Standards. This process is anonymous, and you won’t be able to see who reported the account unless you reported the account for intellectual property violations.
How To Report A Post On Facebook Vs. How To Report A Photo On Facebook
You can report spam or abusive content on Facebook by clicking the Report link near the content. You can report content to Facebook in a variety of ways. Here’s how to do it:
- To report a post:
- Go to the post you want to report.
- Click more in the top right of the post.
- Click Find support or report post.
- To give feedback, click the option that best describes how this post goes against the Community Standards. Click Next.
- Depending on your feedback, you may then be able to submit a report to Facebook. For some types of content, you won’t be asked to submit a report. Click Done.
- To report a photo or video:
- Click on the photo or video to expand it. If the profile is locked and you can’t view the full-sized photo, click Find support or report photo.
- Click more to the right of the photo or video.
- Click Find Support or Report Photo for photos or Report Video for videos.
- Select the option that best describes the issue and follow the on-screen instructions.
Can Facebook use my photos?
It was reported in November 2021 that Facebook (later renamed “Meta”) was now allowed to use members’ photos without their permission under a new “Facebook/Meta rule.”
This is not true. The fact is that, if you use Facebook, as we have seen above, you agree to allow the company to use your content in accordance with your privacy settings and their terms and conditions.
What to do if someone steals your photo and puts it on social media
People who are confronted with this scenario could also assert a claim for infringing their privacy in addition to their copyright rights. The claims protect the rights of everyday people depicted in images, while copyright protection protects the ownership of the images themselves.
The use of a stolen image in a way that does not comply with the person’s wishes or approval is considered wrongful appropriation or illegal commercial use. Imagine, for example, that a picture of you drinking lemonade in the park appears on a billboard advertising lemons or even on a nonprofit organization’s website. No matter who snapped the photo or who owns the copyright, your privacy rights are violated without your consent.
Want to know more about how Pixsy can help? Start here.
If you take a photo that has somebody in it, do you need a model release?
In general, taking a photo rarely requires a model release. On the other hand, the publishing of a photo, including someone’s likeness, may require a model release. Generally, a model release is only required if the way the photo is published makes it seem that the person in the photo endorses the product, service, or organization. For example, a model release would almost always be required for advertising. However, a model release is not needed for publishing the photo as news or for artistic or editorial expression.
Learn more about model releases and image licensing here.
So, next time you come across the meme “I’m In This Photo And I don’t Like It,” take a moment to consider the privacy, data protection, and legal ramifications that inspired it. If you do discover your work has been used without authorization on social media, you can submit a takedown request directly through the platform in question or by using a takedown service such as Pixsy Takedowns.
About The Author: Daniel Long
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