Artists don't give up their copyright license to any photos they use with Google's Picasa service unless they expressly choose to do so. A copyright is legal protection provided to the owners of writings, photos or other works. It gives the owner of a photo, for example, exclusive rights to distribute, sell or make changes to the work.
A copyright is given to an artist automatically when he creates an original work, such as a photo or a story. It typically goes to the creator of the work, but in some situations, it may go to someone else, such as an employer if the artist took a photo while under contract with the employer or a company that buys a copyright. Although the artist can register a copyright, copyright protection is granted by default when the work is created. No one else can legally use the photo, make money from it, make modifications to it, or distribute it in any way without the owner's permission. The owner of the copyright has complete control over how and when the photo is used.
Google's Legal Rights to Photos
An artist's copyright protection to anything he uploads to Picasa follows the same privacy policies that Google uses for all its products. According to Google's terms of service, an artist retains exclusive rights to any photos that he submits to Picasa. Google simply has limited rights to use the photos within its service. For example, Picasa has the right to store the photos, modify them, create derivative works or use the photo to promote its services. This sounds extensive, but there are qualifications attached to this use. Google's terms stipulate that it can only use photos in ways that allow the photos and other content to work better with its services. For example, this would include modifying the size of a photo that an artist wants displayed in his Picasa album so that it loads faster.
Other People's Rights to Photos
When an artist submits photos to Picasa, he can either retain an exclusive copyright or give his photos a public license, known as a Creative Commons license. This licensing standard allows the artist to keep his rights to the photos, including the right to be credited for their use, while giving the public some usage rights, which he chooses in advance. For example, he can allow the use of the photos as long as they don't support a business endeavor, or he can let anyone modify the photos as long as he's still given credit. Photos that have a Creative Commons license typically have a symbol designating the specific type of license, along with a link to the legal text about the license on the Creative Commons website.
If a photo is stolen, the artist can file a copyright infringement claim against the person, whether the artist is using her default rights or a Creative Commons license. The process is the same for both. She can send the infringer a cease and desist letter to stop using the photo. If she prefers, she can send a DMCA takedown notice. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act exempts service providers, such as Picasa, from copyright infringement if they take down photos or other works that are stolen. Alternatively, the artist can send a bill for how much a licensing agreement would have cost. She can also file a lawsuit and sue for any profit that the infringer made, or the value of damage inflicted on her by the photo's use, such as the loss of profits. U.S. law allows for damages ranging from $200 to $15,000 for each work that is stolen. In some cases, the infringer might even go to jail if he purposefully stole the work and profited from it.