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Mon July 22 2013 15:46:58

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

By: Brian Cohen

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By now everyone is aware of eBay's new photo requirements. There is one part of the photo policy that I would like to cover which is photo ownership. eBay clearly states that under the new policy that "Watermarks are the only text that can be on your photo." Moreover it makes clear that watermarks are for the sole purpose of "ownership and attribution." See this eBay help page for the complete Watermarking Guidelines.

eBay should make it clear who owns a photo in a listing that does not have a watermark. To be more specific, it should be understood that this photo, whether or not it has a watermark, belongs to the seller.

However, I believe that once a listing closes with a successful buyer or bidder, that the photo from the auction (if not watermarked) should become fair game for the bidder/buyer to use as they see fit.

Now I suppose some of you might be wondering why doesn't the buyer simply take their own photograph? You might find yourself in a situation (as a buyer) where there is an immediate need to use this photo. A photo of a unique vintage item that could not be found anywhere else. By purchasing this item you are effectively granting yourself "permission" to use the photo immediately without having to wait for physical delivery of the item.

Conversely, once you have purchased this unique item, wouldn't it make you feel a bit uncomfortable if the seller continued to use the photo as they see fit? It also seems bizarre (redundant?) that you would have to ask the seller for permission to use the photo of an item that you just purchased.

To throw a monkeywrench into this discussion: ponder the services such as Worthpoint that include a watermark on eBay listing images that they are "Copyrighted work licensed by Worthpoint" and further states that "Items in the Worthopedia are obtained exclusively from licensors and partners solely for our members' research needs."

Click on this antique blowtorch, for example. So it appears (?) that eBay owns these photos and is licensing them out without our explicit consent.

I personally don't have a problem with this (although I'm sure some of you do) if eBay makes it known in advance that photos may be used in such a manner... Well, in lawyer-speak, they do... According to the eBay User Agreement:  

"When providing us with content or posting content on eBay's sites, services, applications, and tools, you grant us a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sublicensable (through multiple tiers) right to exercise any and all copyright, trademark, publicity, and database rights you have in the content, in any media known now or in the future."

Perhaps the above can be promoted by eBay as a means to keep all listing insertions free and that listings are in part sponsored by third party data-collection services.

This also begs the question if eBay could monetize seller photos at a granular level. Could eBay act as a platform for sellers to make "royalties" on photos from closed auctions that have been watermarked?  This value added optional  service could compete with the likes of iStockPhoto and Shutterstock.

And in case you missed it, Bloomberg recently reported in "Shutterstock Creates First Silicon Alley Billionaire" that Jonathan Oringer, the founder of Shutterstock became a billionaire and further noted that, "Unlike Getty and Corbis, Shutterstock doesn't own its content. The site's contributors - photographers, illustrators and artists who so far have been paid more than $150 million, according to the company - retain ownership of their copyrights."

As a seller or a buyer on eBay, how do you feel about ownership of images after a listing closes? Would you like eBay to monetize Seller Photos similar to Shutterstock?

Take our poll on SurveyMonkey (we'll share the results with readers). And let us know what you think in the comments below!

About the Author
Brian Cohen has been an active member of the eBay community since May 1998, and he currently trades under the member name Bidofthis.com. His first AuctionBytes article was published in May 2002. Brian's reporting on Bitcoin in 2013 has been referenced in numerous publications including The Register, Tech Week Europe, TechCrunch and PC World. Brian can be contacted through his website at BidofThis.com where he always has a "little Bid of This and little Bid of That." (Note: The above post was submitted on July 21st.)




Comments (33) | Permalink

Readers Comments

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 22 18:22:39 2013

If they use your photo - VERO them!

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

This user has validated their user name. by: The End

Mon Jul 22 20:01:31 2013

SHe who SNAPPED the photo OWNS it.
Sue the daylights out of Ebay for using YOUR photos. It's common knowledge that by virtue of using your photo in your listing, copyright laws recognize it as being YOUR PHOTO. Regardless of what the "Make it up as we go along" pinheads /airheads of Ebay have told themselves.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

This user has validated their user name. by: The End

Mon Jul 22 20:12:33 2013

ALSO : I use the SAME background / props in all of my photos. This way no one can claim the photos as theirs. This is precisely why a plain white background is a sure way people can & will bootleg your product or steal your photo. To avoid a highjacking > NO PLAIN WHITE BACKGROUNDS. Use your individual, unique props for EXTRA Insurance.
I forced a guy to remove a photo of my product from his website under threat of a six-figure law suit. It Worked.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Mon Jul 22 21:41:18 2013

Not too long ago, ebay claimed that all photos and product descriptions uploaded to ebay belonged to ebay which is why some sellers copyrighted their photos and descriptions.

It would seem ebay was forced to change their policy, and in  the ebafia culture of Lies and Secrets, told no one.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: Grandma_Fish This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 23 00:40:51 2013

Sorry, Julia, I have to break my usual silence and chime in here and respectfully disagree with you on this one. I often use the photos that I have taken of dolls and collectibles I've sold to highlight subject matter on blog posts and on Facebook, as profile photos for forums and groups I belong to and for my own reference for identification of future dolls and collectibles I might buy for resale. I consider them my photos, not my buyer's, to use as I wish, indefinitely.

It takes me a lot of time to take my photos, crop them and resize them for use and I think it would be wrong for someone else to take my hard work and use it however they see fit, even buyers of my products. I'm fine with it if the buyer simply needs a photo for insurance purposes or home inventory records. They wouldn't need my ''permission'' for that kind of use. But if they want to resell it, they are welcome to take their OWN photos once they receive the product in the mail from me or just ask me if it's okay if they use it, to which I probably would answer yes, with the understanding that I may use the photo myself in the future. With so many digital cameras and smartphones with cameras nowadays, there is no excuse to rip off someone else's photos, except laziness. Try using one of Toys-R-Us's stock photos as your own on your blog or Facebook just because you bought that toy and it's now yours and see what happens.

If any venue tries to tell me that they own the photos of my products that I upload to their site, I won't sell there. I can sell on my own website or I can choose not to sell online at all. And, yes, by the way, I do currently no longer sell on Ebay and I'll definitely be checking out Etsy's photo policy. Sorry to sound harsh, but after selling for four years I've developed a rather thin skin for these ''venues'' increasingly dominating requirements. I think I need a lo-o-ong vacation!

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: zigziglar This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 23 02:45:55 2013

EBAY BENEFITS FROM SELLERS STEALING PHOTOS!!! Gets them more business and fast new small business they wouldn't get or easily get!!! Here example!  :  I have been doing ebay since 1999!!! I have photographed anitques to furniture to recently new retail stuff that stock photos exist of on amazon, manufacturers website etc.... I HAVE TAKEN beautiful photos of say a common fragrance and used nice white backdrop... sold hundreds of same few items at fixed price multi qty - I swear to you many newbie sellers a lot that are barely legit or terrible feedback and service I see to this day and not just on ebay 3-4+ years later my OLD photos I see EVERYWHERE!!!!! So this makes me when I was selling or if I go back to selling it my photo not stand out for the proof of its condition and authenticity... I one time had a URL link to a photo and noticed a seller copied and pasted the whole body so I to teach him a lesson renamed that photo in my FTP to a random dirty photo inappropriate to be in his ebay description - so I refreshed page and sure enough my text still there but exact photo size/position went from a fragrance photo to something that probably got his account suspended!!!! I teach a lesson I mean there is taking a photo that's nearly public or universal as in stock photos but how many sellers with 0-30 feedback used mine and has been recopied and reused for years now! I spent dozens of hours and hard work in odd positions to get those photos and would hurt my sales value and put a newbie seller at same esteem to buyers as they see such a photo before they see the buyers feedback and such!
I think EBAY should have a SERVICE that watermarks every image you upload unless its a stock photo from a UPC/ISBN... but REASON THEY WONT is THEY PREFER it so random small sellers on ebay app can list stuff fast & easy and have photos! Ebay benefits From our photos not being protected bottom line!!!!!

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 23 03:48:25 2013

Ebay doesn't give a rats patootie about WHO steals your photos as long as they believe THEY will benefit from whatever SALES occur.

I had a series of photos for a product that mounts on a motorcycle.  Now because this bike did NOT come with a windscreen every guy who put one on has a different one.  We happen to have one with a distinct design on it.  Which was very visible in our pics.  Soooo---my husband noticed that some one had STOLEN these images to try and sell the same thing wee were selling...

We contact the seller--we got a lot of foul words and he cropped the pics but you could STILL tell they were OUR PICS.  We watermarked and re-shot and kept contacting ebay via phone and email for WEEKS.

They could have cared LESS.

I finally called our local Judge who told me to bring it if the guy did not cease and desist.  So I told him this and he   THEN decided to call me out ON HIS LISTING BY NAME--did ebay care?  Nope.

A funny?  That seller ALSO has many many OTHER purloined pics lifted from a web site devoted to this rare bike---and everyone KNOWS this--and he tries to sell using pics of guys bikes he has never seen.  And will ebay DO anything about this?  Nope.  

The last time I looked this guy still has a user name--but nothing for ya know--sale.


Karma.  Shes a bitch.  And some days she has puppies.  

WE do the leg work we do the photos we take the risk--the LEAST ebay could do is acknowledge WHO the pics belong to.  The SELLERS.  

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: Beth This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 23 07:09:57 2013

Sorry Julia but photos I took belong to me. NOT to the buyer of the item in the photo.  COPYRIGHT law says so.  So NO you, nor any buyer doesn't have the "right" to the photo.  

Or is it ok for me to copy your books and resell them with my name on it.  After all I bought the book I should be entitled to use the pictures of the pages right?

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Tue Jul 23 07:32:26 2013

I don't agree with you. The buyer or bidder is buying or bidding on the item, not the photo(s).  If the description states that the sale is for the item AND the photograph(s) that are shown in the listing then it is acceptable.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: frustrated This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 23 08:17:09 2013

It doesn't matter if it's on ebay, Time Magazine or your local newspaper.

***The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provides that the author of a photograph is the person who creates it. The author will be the first holder of the copyright in the photograph unless this was created in the course of employment in which case the employer will own the copyright.

Ebay is NOT our employer. If they are, I want my health insurance, Workers compensation, ETC ETC ETC ETC. Oh yeah, and I want them to pay 1/2 of my FICA.

The copyright results from the WORK (hear that ebay taking photos, opening the boxes, repacking, putting away and organizing involves W-O-R-K, not to mention time. Not to MENTION A WAREHOUSE) the photographer did in making the image.

Ebay does NOT and never will own pics. Just like they do not and never will own the items we sell. They just get too big for their britches on a regular basis, because they are the only game in town.

WATERMARK all of your pics.

If you'd rather not, use a distinctive background. They CAN NOT require an all white background. What if my ITEM is white?????

I also pointed out to them on the phone that ALL "NEW" items listed on ebay are NEW IN AN OPEN BOX"

Otherwise, how could I take a picture? (their description of new says new in SEALED box)

DOOOOUUUHHHHHHH

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: cherrypieandroses This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 23 08:22:34 2013

Frustrated gives the laws which protect intellectual property.  Indisputable.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: FREDDY This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 23 08:31:49 2013

Who takes pics - owns pics. Simply. Not hard to understand.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: frustrated This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 23 09:08:56 2013

That's because I took it from a LAW info site.

Ebay think they are big sh**.

They haven't been able to change any laws.

Mostly because Meg lost.

Yikes, what if she'd won??

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Tue Jul 23 10:29:35 2013

The problem becomes even worse for those that sell on other channels that upload to Google shopping where Google does not allow a watermark so you have to send your pictures out into the world on their own for anyone to grab and steal. If I took the picture, I own the picture. What is interesting is the excuses for why they took your picture, including THEY don't have a camera or a scanner so they have to find pictures to illustrate their listings. As if YOU are responsible to help them list items and get their business going, If you want to run a business online (or anywhere) and you don't have the proper equipment, then you have a problem that needs to be solved before you go live.

The statement from ebay reminds me of some statements sellers make about how they are not responsible for a package getting to it's destination and forcing their buyers to pay for insurance. Well, sellers are responsible and WE are the ones that need to buy insurance to protect our wallet.

Seems the laws just go bye-bye when people sell on line. I know I have had photos stolen, I just don't have the time to go track them down and smack people upside the head to get them to stop.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Tue Jul 23 15:20:31 2013

This reminds me of that big brouhaha a couple years back where a woman was running a foodie blog and was stealing recipes from other sites. When called on it, her excuse was that everyone knows that things posted on the internet are free. I agree with the other posters here. My photos belong to me. I've invested in equipment and spent time taking those photos, so they do have monetary value. If anyone were to use them, they would need to have my permission and perhaps pay me a royalty/license fee. I'll be adding watermarks to all my photos soon, along with some other less-obvious means of identifying them. If someone is using URL links to your photos, that's even worse, since they're stealing your bandwidth that you're paying for as well as breaking copyright law.

I wouldn't have a problem with a buyer using the photo to show off to friends what they bought, but any commercial use is a big no-no. As others have pointed out, the big boys don't allow use of their photos, so why should we? Just because we aren't the size of Wal-Mart doesn't mean the law applies to us any less.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
Web Site

Tue Jul 23 15:40:07 2013

Yo’ all overlook your “agreement” with eBay …

I could not be bothered reading eBay's 127 page "agreement" but I suspect that you will find somewhere therein a clause whereby you agree that by using their venue you transfer the copyright of any uploaded photographs to them, or at least give them the right to use them however they wish …

“The secret of success is sincerity; once you can fake that you've got it made”—Jean Giraudoux ... http://bit.ly/12Q6xjt
Keep working at it John, you still have a good way yet to go ...

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: frustrated This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jul 24 09:16:31 2013

No agreement can be made to counter existing federal law.

This is a NON STARTER.

Photographer owns the photos, not ebay, not the buyer.

Complain about real issues, like high fees, and non-mutual feedback.

And do it LOUDLY, constantly, politely, use logic and then pray they get a brain cell.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: frustrated This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jul 24 09:24:31 2013

Example:

Companies who try to use a private "agreement" with non-salaried employees that they will take a 1099 instead of overtime.

Doesn't fly.

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: amorelle This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jul 24 13:01:26 2013

One thing I don't think I've seen anybody mention is that if you use somebody else's photos, you're not showing the actual product that's for sale. Isn't that a problem?

On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?   On eBay, Who Owns the Photos?

by: frustrated This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jul 24 14:13:33 2013

ebay's own "Rules for Intellectual Property"

Can't use someone else's picture or item description without their permission. If you believe someone else is using your photos or text without your permission, report it to us

So if your buyer thinks he bought the item AND the pic, he's wrong.

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