When you upload a photo or video online, it’s natural to wonder where that photo is going, and who has access to it now. Uploading media online takes mere seconds and is done by millions of people every day, but who actually owns the rights to this content? Who Really Owns the Photos and Videos You Upload Online?

Where are your online photos stored?

There are a number of websites and apps that may need to store your photos, including specialist ones.

While the examples listed above are the most commonly encountered when considering photo storage, thousands of websites and apps may request a photo of you, a product you’re selling, or an identification card such as a driver’s license or passport.

Many of us don’t really understand how and where our photos and videos are stored online. For example, when you upload a photo to Instagram, it will be saved to your account so your followers can view your profile upload from anywhere. But where are these pictures stored so that this is possible?

Instagram uses cloud servers to store such data, as do most services. Most platforms use servers to store photos, videos, and many other types of data, such as names, addresses, and contact information. These servers are usually housed in data centers or data farms, the location of which varies depending on the company concerned.

Facebook also uses data centers to store user photos. In Sweden, Facebook has a large facility known as the LuleĆ„ Data Center that houses the social media outlet’s vast amounts of information, including photos and videos uploaded by users. This is not Facebook’s only data center, but it is an example of how the company handles data.

But here you don’t just need to consider social media. There are many other platforms that handle your photos and videos, including cloud storage services like Google Drive. Cloud storage services also typically store your data on remote servers in data centers.

For example, Dropbox keeps data in secure storage servers, which are located in the US, UK, Japan, EU and Australia. So, it is clear that secure servers are the most common practice for user data storage, be it social media platforms or cloud storage services.

So, once these photos are uploaded and stored, are they still yours, or does someone else get to have a first look?

Who owns your uploaded photos and videos?

In general, whoever created the image or video you uploaded is the official owner. For example, if you take a picture with your smartphone and then upload it to Twitter, Google Drive, Facebook or any other website, that picture is yours. No website can claim that it owns the content uploaded by you if you have created it yourself.

On the other hand, if you choose to upload someone else’s photo to social media, cloud storage or any other platform, it is not your property. The person who took the photo, or the person who bought the rights to it, still owns the material. For example, if you upload a digital graphic created by someone else to social media, it’s not up to you who uses it. Rather, it is up to the manufacturer or legal owner.

The same applies for cloud storage platforms such as OneDrive or Google Drive. These platforms may store your data, but admit that they do not own it. For example, Google Drive states on its Additional Terms of Service page that “your content stays with you” when you upload it for storage.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule as well. For example, if you sell the rights to a photo or video you made to someone else, it becomes their property.

But there is another element to be considered here, and that is the use of your photos.

Even if you own the photos you uploaded, can websites and apps still use them? Some photographers upload their photos for free use to stock image websites such as Pixabay and Unsplash. On such sites, you can use a given image or video as you wish without giving credit to the creator.

But if you’re uploading photos to cloud storage platforms, social media outlets, and similar platforms, you generally wouldn’t want your photos to be used by other people.

Each platform has its own policy on user photo usage, but the general consensus is that your permission is required before another entity can use anything you upload. For example, Instagram states in its help center that, if an advertiser wants to use your photos, they must obtain explicit permission from you. Otherwise, your media is out of range.

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