The DMCA on 7 Photo Sharing Sites

Previously on this site, I reviewed the DMCA policies of the top 5 social news sites. I found, as might be expected, that the policies on the five different sites varied wildly both in terms of how they were implemented and how robust they were.

Differences between the sites became clear as sites with more money, and thus better access to legal advice, had much more complete policies than those with more humble means.

However, social news is not the only growing segment of the Web. As digital photography and online artwork has become easier and more accessible, photo sharing and image hosting services have also grown rapidly in size.

However, the boon in online image hosting has also given birth to a sharp rise in image theft. Now, anyone with a Flickr account can trivially download an image and post it to the Web. There’s no need to have a Web site at all and the image can be embedded anywhere desired, including on social networking sites.

This has made the copyright enforcement policies of these image sharing sites especially important because, without cooperation from the major players, this type of plagiarism can go unchallenged.

So, I’ve decided to continue my analysis of DMCA policies on various sites by reviewing the policies of seven of the top photo sharing sites including Photobucket, ImageShack, Flickr and more. Here is what I found.


Format: Email
Email Address: abuse at photobucket dot com
Location of Policy: Copyright and IP Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: Robust and to the letter of the law, Photobucket sets a very high bar for its competitors. Not only is its DMCA policy complete, including counter-notice information, but the site also offers similar policies for violations of trademark and privacy. The only complaint I can offer about their policy is that it is difficult to find. It is not included in their contact information, but rather, in the footer of their terms of service. A link to the policy, as well as information on reporting other abuse, should probably be located in an easier to find place. Still, the policy itself is very sound and offers great information for anyone looking to file a notice or counter-notice with the company.


Format: Form
Email Address: See Form
Location of Policy: None
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: In stark contrast to Photobucket, ImageShack completely lacks a formal DMCA policy. Though they provide a Web form to report infringing images, there is no other contact information (fax, email, address, etc.) and no guidance on filing a notice. Reports from others who have filed DMCA notices with Imageshack have indicated a spotty record on acting on infringing material when notified by this means. Worse, the default template of the abuse form is woefully inadequate to report copyright infringement in accordance with the law and, as of this writing, ImageShack has not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Though their relatively short terms of service mentions copyright three different times, their overall policy shows a general lack of planning.


Format: Email
Email Address: copyright at yahoo-inc dot com
Location of Policy: Yahoo’s Copyright and IP Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: Owned by Yahoo, Flickr shares its DMCA policy with the search giant. Yahoo has had a strong and robust policy for as long as I can remember for both its search and other hosting properties. Flickr benefits greatly from that experience. The information provided is short but complete, the policy is easy to find, located in the footer on every page, and provides all of the necessary information. Though the lack of counter-notice information is somewhat worrisome, that is likely something they handle when communicating directly with individuals that have been served with DMCA notices. All in all, it is a well-rounded and simple DMCA policy that is more or less what you would expect from Yahoo.


Format: Email
Email Address: copyright at webshots dot com
Location of Policy: Copyright Violation Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: Owned by CNET, Webshots has a very simple but effective DMCA policy. Located in the footer of each page, the policy goes through the basics of providing a DMCA notice to the site and offers up all of the necessary information to get in touch with the designated agent. The site is also registered with the USCO. The only concern I have with Webshots is that they repeat the information in their terms of use but provide different contact information (the TOU says “General Counsel” while both the USCO filing and the IP policy directs it to the agent). Also, the IP policy in the TOU omits the email address. However, that is likely an oversight and, in general, their DMCA policy is very complete and well done.


Format: Email
Email Address: copyrightagent at smugmug dot com
Location of Policy: “Copyright Complaints”, Terms of Use
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: The only paid service on this list, SmugMug has one of the most unusual copyright/DMCA policies. Buried in the terms of service, where it is very difficult to find, the policy can be best described as “short but sweet”. It covers the basics including the agent’s contact information and the required elements of the notice but doesn’t offer much else. Strangest of all, the terms of use do not make any mention about copyright infringement being a violation of their terms and, outside of the policy, the only mention of copyright at all revolves around the protection of their own works. Perhaps even more disheartening is that they place their own copyright warning above their DMCA policy, thus highlighting their own protections before discussing their DMCA information. This site is not registered with the USCO and, though the policy is complete, it seems, in general, to be more of an afterthought.
Update: I spoke with the general manager of SmugMug. He was very grateful for this review and has already sent off his application for USCO registration in response to it. Also, he pointed out that their terms of service does make mention of copyright under their “License Granted by Users” section. They were planning on reworking their terms before this article and will likely rearrange it to make it more clear. Still, not seeing that was my mistake and I apologize.


Format: Email
Email Address: infringement at snapfish dot com
Location of Policy: Copyright Infringement Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: A very basic policy. Provides the information required including the contact information for the agent and the required elements for notification but doesn’t go out of its way to help either those submitting notices or those seeking put-back. There is no counter-notice information and the policy itself is buried as link in their terms and conditions. The site has registered with the USCO and, by all appearances, has done everything required to comply with the letter of the law. All in all, Snapfish’s policy is unimpressive in every regard.


Format: Email
Email Address: abuse at bbridgetech dot com
Location of Policy: Last Item, Terms of Service
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: The cool photo sharing site with a funny name has a less than cool DMCA policy with a less than serious approach to the matter. Though their DMCA policy provides the email address to contact their abuse department and the basics for submitting a complaint. It does not offer much else. Zooomr has not registered with the USCO as of this writing and provides no other means of contact such as snail mail, fax or phone. However, these limitations are representative of their entire terms of service, limited, unprofessional and done with haste. It seems that their entire abuse system lags well behind most other Web sites in this field.


All in all, of these sites, only ImageShack was truly lacking in its policy. All of the other sites have policies in place and provide the necessary information to file a notice. Though three, ImageShack, Zooomr and SmugMug had not registered with the USCO as of this writing, the other four had.

It appears that, while many of these sites have flaws and concerns, that most of them are interested in at least following the law as it is written and working with copyright holders.

However, this is not a complete list of photo sharing sites by any stretch. I can think of at least a dozen others that are not on this list. I will likely return in a few weeks to create a part two of this series, where I will cover seven more photo sharing sites.

Also, in a bid to make this a regular “Thursday” event, I will also be posting on the DMCA/Copyright policies of top social networking sites as well as video sharing sites.

If you have any suggestions for this series or know of any sites that you want covered, please leave a comment below. I would love your input on this.

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