Facebook's Image Rights Tool is More for Them Than You

Pretending to care is easy!

Key Takeaways

  • Photographers can now claim copyright of their images and Facebook will remove infringing posts. 
  • This new tool is for Instagram as well as Facebook.
  • It’s unlikely you or I will ever get access to these protections.
Facebook Rights Manager apply now button

Facebook’s new image-copyright tools will stop people from stealing photographs or using other people’s pictures without permission. The catch? This won’t stop anybody from stealing your Instagram photos, unless you’re famous enough. 

An update has added images rights to Facebook’s rights-management tool, joining music and video rights. To begin with, image rights tools will only be available to select people and organizations. This means that you’ll be prevented from posting other folks’ images without permission (good), but unable to stop people stealing your own work (bad). And yes, this all applies to Instagram as well. 

“For regular users, the most likely benefit will be immediate removal of images that could have become much more serious legal issues,” Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today told Lifewire via email. “It may not seem like much of a benefit, but given the spate of Instagram-related lawsuits it may well help a lot of people.”

How the Facebook Image Copyright Tool Works

Say you upload a video to Facebook. The Rights Manager analyzes it, and if it contains music, that music may be muted from the video. An alert will pop up, and you can choose to post the muted video, or claim that the music is either yours, or that you have permission to use it.

Facebook Rights Manager

The new image tool works in the same way. If you’re a famous photographer, or you run an image library, you can upload a CSV file (a spreadsheet, essentially) containing the metadata of all your images. You can also specify usage rights for those images. For instance, you could grant permission for use in developing countries, but not anywhere else. Facebook will verify that the metadata matches your uploaded images, then watch out for them across its site.

Then, when anyone uploads a picture that matches your list, the tool applies your settings. You can also see an overview of all matching images.

In case of a copyright claim, Facebook will favor whoever uploaded the files first. And this brings us to the limitations.


Right now, these new features are open only to “certain partners,” according to The Verge. That makes sense from a logistical point-of-view. If this was open to anyone, then dodgy companies would surely spring up, registering every image they could as soon as possible. But this limit also reveals Facebook’s true motive.

As a platform, Facebook surely doesn’t care about copyright. More sharing means more “engagement” after all. What it cares about is being held responsible for copyright infringement by companies with enough power to cause trouble for Facebook. And by trouble, I mean future legislation forcing Facebook to police everybody’s rights.

It may not seem like much of a benefit, but given the spate of Instagram-related lawsuits, it may well help a lot of people.

As such, the tools are useless for you and me. “Barring a major expansion of who Facebook allows in, I don't see much benefit to even small, commercial photographers,” says Bailey.

How Will Facebook’s Image Copyright Restrictions Affect You?

Most people don’t care if their uploaded Instagram breakfast selfies are shared, but if you’re a photographer or artist, then rip-offs can be a big deal.

Unlike Twitter’s retweets, Instagram doesn’t have a good way to share existing posts individually, so users resort to reposting screenshots. Instagram Stories help to keep this “chain-of-credit” intact, but they don’t help when an Instagrammer passes another photographer’s photo off as their own.

So, will us mortals ever get access to these tools? Facebook’s “product manager of creator and publisher experience” hints that we will. Speaking to The Verge, he said that “a tool like this is a pretty sensitive one and a pretty powerful one, and we want to make sure that we have guardrails in place to ensure that people are able to use it safely and properly.”

I asked Jonathan Bailey if he thought the regular user would ever benefit from these protections. “Probably not,” he said. “Content ID has been available on YouTube since 2007 and it's never been made available (in full) to the public at large.”

For regular users, the most likely benefit will be immediate removal of images that could have become much more serious legal issues.

It’s not that the individual doesn’t need protection. It’s that it’s a lot of work for Facebook and Google to do it, with little or no payoff for them. This story is a reminder that these platforms care for themselves first, their customers (the advertisers) second, and their users (us) dead last. We’re not valued customers. We’re a resource to be channeled and exploited.

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