Facebook copyright fears over RCAHMS images used by Lost Edinburgh dispelled

A legal professional has described the belief that Facebook would have acquired the ownership rights to images posted on Lost Edinburgh, as ‘misplaced’, following the closure of the site as a result of having the images withdrawn.

Lost Edinburgh, a Facebook page which chronicled the architectural history of Edinburgh, was forced to close after it received a complaint from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) which owns the image rights to the pictures being used by the site.

It is understood that the objection was made by RCAHMS as it did not wish to lose ownership of the images, believing that images posted on Facebook allowed the social networking site to claim copyright.

John MacKenzie, partner at Shepherd and Wedderburn, who specialises in IP Litigation UK Law, dispelled fears that RCAHMS would have lost their ownership of the images.

“This decision comes as no surprise, assuming that Lost Edinburgh didn’t have appropriate permission in place to use the images on its Facebook site. However, the Royal Commission’s fear of losing copyright is somewhat misplaced as Facebook would only ever have acquired a licence to display any images used on this site with copyright remaining with the Commission,” explained MacKenzie.

“In any case this serves a prime example of the impact on the ground following Facebook’s recent announcement to tighten up its policy about image use on their site. Facebook users need to be aware that they can’t simply post any image they find online or otherwise or they may risk being in violation of the new rules,” he added.

James Crawford from RCAHMS explained: “We cannot put our own images on Facebook and cannot give anyone else permission to do so because with Facebook’s terms and conditions you have to cede intellectual property to the company.

“Our collection is Crown copyright. It would be breaking the law by allowing the images to be on Facebook,” continued Crawford.

Two Facebook sites campaigning for the return of Lost Edinburgh have been launched.


James Crawford contacted The Drum to add:

To clarify RCAHMS position, the issue is not about the loss of copyright. As Shepherd and Wedderburn explain in their quote, this is about licensing rights in imagery. RCAHMS licenses were developed for us by Shepherd and Wedderburn who are acknowledged experts in the area of Intellectual Property Rights.

Facebook's terms and conditions are as follows "For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it."

As Shepperd and Wedderburn recognise, no permissions were sought by the people behind the "Lost Edinburgh" page who posted RCAHMS images on Facebook. Anyone can contact RCAHMS to use our images, subject to a licence and potentially a fee.

However, the terms of the licence which we would have to grant to anyone who would like to post RCAHMS images on Facebook is in breach of the duty of care we hold over the images deposited with our National Collection. Our position is that the Facebook licence effectively represents a licence to use our images in perpetuity, as the sharing aspect of Facebook - which is one of the key factors of the site's functionality - means there is no way to control or manage the spread and use of posted images. In that respect, granting a licence to Facebook means granting usage rights for images which exceed the terms of any licence we are permitted to issue as holders of copyright in trust.

Full copyright and licensing terms can be found on the RCAHMS website: http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/copyright-and-licence.html

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