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Is It Safe to Post Photos of Your Kids Online?

Who Owns the Photos of Your Kids Online?

The practice of sharing pictures of kids and family members online is still a relatively new phenomenon. With the rise of social media networks and photo sharing sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flikr, photos of you and your children may be susceptible to use (often without your permission) by third parties, including friends, families, advertisers -- or worse -- child predators.

For example, when popular mom-blogger Heather Spohr was contacted by the police in 2010 about an innocent photo of her daughter that was found on a computer that contained "indecent images of children," she was both stunned and afraid. The police inquiry letter read: "Unfortunately, innocent pictures [of children] are also very attractive to certain types of people."

According to a recent U.S. study, 92 percent of American children have an online presence by the time they are two, compared with other European countries at 73 percent. This includes prenatal sonogram photos (33%), email addresses (7%), and everyday photos uploaded by their parents.

However, not all photos are shared by the parents of children. "Only 33 percent of the 2,200 moms studied said they've uploaded pictures of their newborn or toddler to the internet," the study reported. The remaining percent comes from other family members and friends who "often take the liberty of sharing baby pictures on the Web, making deleting them trickier for concerned parents."

What is generally meant as an innocent post of a child's life story may end up in the hands of someone who does not have the child's best interest at heart. This raises important privacy and safety concerns for all parents.

Copyright, Privacy and Safety Issues

Because digital photos are easy to download or copy -- typically with just a right click of the mouse -- family members, friends, and potential advertisers often take the liberty of sharing these photos to others online, for example, via email or photo-sharing websites. When this occurs, the question "is it safe to post photos of your kids online" often arises.

Generally, only the author or creator of a work has the right to copy, distribute or adapt the work -- including photographs. For instance, a photographer has ownerships rights to his or her pictures at the moment the picture is taken (except when hired to take pictures on someone else's behalf).

In the online world, however, the creator owns the underlying work, yet effectively grants permission to the website to use the work in any manner according to its terms of use or privacy standards. Unfortunately, once you've uploaded a photo to a website, the photo is susceptible to unauthorized distribution and use of the photo from family, friends, and others.

Whether or not it is safe to post photos of your kids online depends on various factors, including the location and place the photo is uploaded, the nature of the photo itself, and whether the photo has a large amount of identifying information associated with it.

Risks for posting photos of your kids online might include: (1) the threat of being targeted by a pedophile or online stalker, (2) image misappropriation, (3) copyright infringement and (4) cyberbulling, among others.

How to Protect Your Digital Photos Online

Below are steps you can take to protect the privacy and safety of the online digital photo's you upload.

  • Read the Terms of Service (TOS) on photo sharing websites and other social networks, including the fine print. Otherwise, you may inadvertently grant permission to websites or its users to use your photos any way they see fit.
  • Check the privacy settings on photo-sharing sites and other profiles. The best way to keep photos private is to limit those who can view them. Many photo sharing websites offer the ability to keep your photos from being found by search engines.
  • Create a password on photo sharing sites that allow invitation-only access to view one's photos and requires users to input a password to view them.
  • If copyright is your concern, consider adding a digital watermark (a superimposed logo or word) to your photos.
  • If you are overly skeptical of photo-sharing websites, only share photos with very close friends or family, or not at all.
  • Avoid identifying information, such as full names, schools, or geographical location. This includes skipping captions on photos that creates opportunity for more personal data to be translated.
  • Avoid posting embarrassing or compromising photos of your children. Ask yourself -- "how would my child feel about this photo in 20 years"?
  • To take advantage of copyright protection of your photos, you should apply for copyright registration of each photo you want to protect. The U.S. Copyright Office now offers an online copyright registration process. This is particularly important for professional photographers.

In conclusion, because most uploaded online digital photos are subject to public view, a good rule of thumb to follow is always take precaution in the type, location, and nature of the photo you are uploading. If you have an immediate privacy or safety concerns about photos you recently uploaded, speak with an internet lawyer in your area for more information on protecting your rights.

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