Is copying images for your social media posts ever ok?

Posted by on Jun 14, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Is copying images for your social media posts ever ok?

We all know what it’s like. We have a great idea for a post but we want to include a photo with it. So where do we go? Google, of course. One quick search later and we have a fabulous image to include – which will mean our post gets seen by more people.

Perhaps your customers love your product so much, they post images of it on social media? Are they allowed to do that? And can you re-post their images on your brand’s social media?

Just how does copyright protection work in the world of social media?

What are the copyright basics?

Generally, the person who created the piece of work owns it. This could be a photograph, a blog, an information booklet, a painting etc.

However, it is possible to have a copyright licence in place which gives permission to a third party to use the work. For example, an influencer may take a photo with a particular product. In absence of an agreement, they are the owner of that work, despite the fact it has a branded product in it.

However, if there’s an agreement in place, or they are doing it as a sponsored piece of work it is likely that the copyright is at least licensed to the brand holder, to reproduce and use.

Why is it important to be the owner of the copyright?

The ownership allows you to post the work without the risk of infringing rights within it. For example, if a brand owner fails to put a licence in place with an influencer, they have no right to re-post the influencer’s images.

In most circumstances, by re-posting without permission, they are committing copyright infringement and the influencer could take the appropriate action. This theory applies to anyone who creates a piece of work.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

So, what about Google images?

Unless they are from a royalty free website, for example Unsplash, they should not be copied and used. Just because they don’t say they have usage restrictions, it doesn’t mean they are safe to use.

Copying an image and using it without a licence would be copyright infringement. Websites like Shutterstock allow you to use images by paying a fee. When you pay, you sign up to a licence, allowing you to use the images without infringement. However, check the terms of use before deciding how and where to use them, or for how long.

Do social media sites like Instagram and Facebook have rights to your photos?

In short yes. When you sign up to Instagram and Facebook you agree that although they will never claim ownership to your copyright, you do grant them a licence which will give them the authority to copy and reproduce your images without infringing. Don’t put anything on there that you wouldn’t want reposting!

Is there a way around copyright infringement?

The defences for copyright infringement are commentary, criticism and parody.

If you reproduce someone’s post for the purposes of commenting on it, criticising it or making a parody of it then it may not be infringement. By doing any of these you will generally be referencing the original post and therefore the reader is aware that you are not the original author.

Acknowledgement of the original work shows that the new post has not been reproduced in order to gain profit or reputation and therefore infringement is not intended.

How to ensure you don’t infringe

Never take someone else’s work without seeking their permission. Take images from royalty free sites or pay for images via stock photography sites.

Generally reposting on social media should only be used for commentary, criticism or parody. You should ensure that you’re not reposting someone else’s work and profiting from it as a result. If there’s an argument that it’s simply been reposted to gain something from it, this would constitute damage and therefore copyright infringement.

Leanne Hall is a trade mark attorney at Serjeants LLP in Leicester and Derby. Connect to Leanne on LinkedIn.

Title photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.