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Facebook, Instagram can soon actively search for — and block — stolen images

Facebook will soon protect images with the same technology the company already uses to automatically police protected music and videos. On Monday, September 21, Facebook launched Rights Manager for Images to limited Pages, a tool that allows photographers to upload their images to a database for Facebook’s bots to search for and remove protected content. The tool works for both Facebook and Instagram and goes beyond existing reporting tools by actively looking for infringements.

Facebook Rights Manager is a system that will flag or remove a user’s video that contains copyrighted music or video content — now that protection extends to still images as well. When the system finds stolen photos, the post could be blocked, monitored, or given proper attribution, depending on the owner’s settings.


The system is designed for creators with a large volume of content. Photographers — and other creatives, such as graphic designers, illustrators, and meme creators — can apply for the program, then upload photos into what Facebook calls a reference library. Facebook uses those uploaded images to look for repeated content across both Facebook and Instagram.

Creators can adjust the settings to choose whether to block stolen content or simply get their credit by applying a photo credit to the post. The system also includes tools to choose which Pages or users are allowed to re-share the content, as well as whether or not to look for the content in specific countries or to apply the protection worldwide.

The system should help photographers who are regularly concerned with Instagram and Facebook images being reposted without permission. The tool joins the company’s intellectual property reporting form, which allows creators to request that content be removed, but doesn’t actively search for image theft.

For Facebook and Instagram users, however, the tool could remove photos that have been shared without permission, similar to the way the networks prevent uploading images with copyrighted music in them, much to the frustration of uninformed users. A meme creator, for example, could protect their work and prevent other Pages from downloading the meme and re-uploading, instead of hitting that share button. Pulling images from Instagram to re-share could also be a thing of the past if the program successfully expands.

Facebook has offered a video Rights Manager since 2016 — it’s unclear why the program came to videos first, which are, in essence, strings of still photos and traditionally more difficult to monitor.

Rights Manager for Images is rolling out first to limited publishers as Facebook irons out the kinks — and makes decisions on content such as memes — but Page administrators can submit an application to join.

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