Are Photos on Facebook Public Domain?

Facebook photos are not public domain. You own your photos and technically sublicense them to Facebook which then protects them.

Published Categorized as Apps & How-to's

Facebook has been in trouble in the past few years for various reasons, and while many of us are still not ready to begin trusting them again, they have made efforts to protect users.

Long story short, the photos you post on Facebook belong to you, though, to be used on Facebook, they are technically ‘sublicensed.’

So, you don’t have to worry about Facebook taking claim over your photos, or even monetizing them. The bigger issue is that people may take your images from Facebook and use them elsewhere.

While it is Facebook’s job to protect you from people stealing your photos, you can further protect yourself by improving your privacy settings.

Is Facebook Content Public Domain?

No, content posted on Facebook is not classed as ‘public domain.’ The term public domain refers to a variety of written works, like books, where the copyright has expired.

In the US, written works enter the public domain 70 years after the passing of the author.

That aside, so many people use Facebook that in a sense, you could say it’s basically a public platform.

According to data from Statista, as of October 2022, Facebook has approximately 2.93 billion monthly active users.

With the world’s population expected to surpass 8 billion by November 2022, if your privacy settings are set to public, your content is exposed to approximately 36.6% of the world’s population.

Who Owns Content Posted on Facebook?

You own your content on Facebook, though, by uploading content to their platform, you are technically sublicensing it to Facebook.

Facebook’s Terms of Service explain:

You retain ownership of the intellectual property rights (things such as copyright or trademarks) in any such content that you create and share on Facebook and other Meta Company Products that you use.”

They also explain what they mean by sublicense:

[If] you share a photo on Facebook, you give us permission to store, copy and share it with others.”

It is merely a legal formality that is needed for Facebook to function as a social media platform.

Are Facebook Photos Copyright?

Facebook protects the content posted on its platform from being shared elsewhere. If you reuse an image from Facebook without getting permission, this is considered a breach of copyright.

The only exception to this rule is if the content owner has waived their rights, in which case they are free to use.

If you delete a photo on Facebook, the sublicense goes with it. Facebook will not battle you for control of your own photos and content. As Facebook’s terms confirm:

This license will end when your content is deleted from our systems.”

This is also extended to other Meta products, such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.

Who Can See My Photos on Facebook?

You can easily find this out by heading to the Privacy Checkup section on your Facebook settings.

In settings, head to Privacy Checkup and then go to ‘Who can see what you share.’ In this section, you can see how visible your profile is to others.

Facebook Privacy Checkup settings

The first slide deals with who can see your contact information but in the second slide, you will be able to see who can see your future posts and stories, and have the option to limit past posts.

Privacy settings for future posts and stories, and limiting past posts.

‘Future posts’ are posts you are yet to make. There are six options:

  • Public—Everyone on Facebook can see your content.
  • Friends—Only your Facebook friends.
  • Friends except…—Specify which friends not to share with.
  • Specific friends—Specify which friends to share with.
  • Only me—Only you will be able to see your content.
  • Custom—Specify who to share with, who not to share with, and if friends of tagged people can view the content too.

For stories, can choose either ‘Public,’ ‘Friends,’ ‘Custom,’ or ‘Hide story from.’

Finally, there is an option to ‘Limit past posts,’ which Facebook describes:

Change who can see past posts that were Public or Friends of friends to only Friends. Anyone tagged in these posts and their friends may still see them.”

Clicking Limit will prevent people from accessing your past posts.

How to Make Facebook Photos Not Public?

To get Facebook photos out of the public eye, you need to change many of your privacy settings from ‘Public’ to another option in the ‘Who can see what you share’ section explained above.

I’ve set much of my Facebook profile to be as private (‘Only me’) as possible. I was just a teenager when Facebook exploded in popularity and at the time it was ‘cool’ to get everything on there.

Now in my thirties, I’d rather not share everything about myself with the world. Furthermore, with a young daughter, I’d prefer not to have a million images of her on the internet.

You will have to go through all the Who can see what you share settings to complete the process, including your block list (the third and final slide), so don’t close the window before you’re finished.

But if you only want to adjust the privacy setting for a single photo or post with multiple photos, you can click on the three dots on the top right and select ‘Edit post audience.’

Edit who can see a Facebook photo or post.

And for albums, find the album you want to change the privacy settings for, click the three dots in the top right, then ‘Edit album’ and to the top left you will see who can access this album.

Edit who can see a Facebook album.

Click on the option already set and you will have the same options mentioned earlier—Public, Friends, Friends except…, Specific friends, Only me, and Custom.

Alternatively, you could also delete any photos you’re worried about, though, this is time-consuming. Note that profile picture thumbnails are always visible unless profile pictures are also deleted.

By Craig Britton

Jack of all trades on writing-related topics with extensive experience in copywriting.

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