When it is as easy as a click of a button to share content online, we tend to forget that copyright laws exist, but the potential of copyright infringement is very real and can greatly impact your small business. Copyright laws and regulations are especially confusing on social media because it is relatively new and education on the correct way to share content has yet to catch up.
If you are posting content created by other users, there are a few things you need to consider. Maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum. Instead, you want to know if you can protect your own original work. Either way, it is important to know what can and cannot be shared on your company’s social platforms.
Many businesses believe that they can post another user’s content on their website, blog, or on social media as long as credit is given to the author of the original work, but this is not true. Giving credit does not immunize you from possible copyright infringement claims. If you are taking other’s work for your own use, you need to ask for permission.
Many social media users rely heavily on their content to attract traffic to their websites, same as you would use your social media content to attract prospect customers to your business. That is why so many people are willing to protect their work in court.
The more beautiful an image is, the more tempting it may be to post it to your own feed, but don’t get tricked into posting another’s professional work. Social media is a very popular lead generator for professional photographers. According to the Hollywood Reporter, photographer turned lawyer Richard Liebowitz has made a killing suing major media companies for copyright infringement on behalf of more than 350 photographers. Liebowitz has been successful at fighting for his clients because he understands what the courts look for in such cases.
Courts look at four factors to determine copyright infringement:
- The purpose of character of the use, including whether it is for commercial use or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
- The nature of the copyrighted material.
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted material as a whole.
- The impact of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Each factor is analyzed individually and then balanced with the others, but the final factor is the most important. Although it may not be your intention, posting another person’s work could negatively impact their image or reputation. This could also severely impact the person or company’s income, especially if they rely on their social media as a revenue stream.
Not every violation of a copyright amounts to infringement. The “fair use” doctrine maintains that it is not infringement if the work is used for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. However, it is quite difficult to argue that an image or video was posted to a small business’ social media for this reason, especially since most businesses use social media as a means of building sales and customer relationships.
Before posting another user’s content, check the licensing terms of the image. This is most relevant to Pinterest and websites that provide stock images because they will explicitly provide instructions for reuse. Simply giving credit to an original author is not the same as being granted permission. If licensing terms are not provided, always ask for consent before posting.
Those who rely heavily on user generated content have come up with strategies to share images without violating copyright infringement. One option is to create a hashtag campaign and encourage others to use the hashtag if they want their content reposted. Another option is to encourage others to tag your page on their photos to be featured. But if you come across an image you want to share on your social media, the obvious thing to do is to comment or send that person a direct message asking if it okay to share their work.
There are also a few preventative steps that can be taken to avoid copyright infringement.
How to Prevent Copyright Infringement
Create a Social Media BluePrint
If your business is on social media it is imperative that you create a social media blueprint, which is essentially a road map for what content is acceptable for your platforms. This is especially important if you have multiple people managing your social media accounts because it ensures that everyone is on the same page and that everyone can be held accountable for their work. In the blueprint, make it explicitly clear that sharing content on social media is only okay if the social media platform allows the action, or if permission was granted by the source.
Create your Own Content
The easiest way to avoid copyright infringement is to create your own content. Invest in a good camera, or phone with a quality camera, and take your own photos. If you don’t want to pay for models, enlist the help of your employees, friends, or customers. For simple edits, we highly recommend Canva.com. If you have the spare time, you can also take lessons in Photoshop to create even better graphics for your brand, or if it’s in the marketing budget hire a marketing agency to manage your social media for you.
Use Stock Photos from Trusted Websites
If you need professional looking photos but don’t have the time to take them yourself, there are a few great resources for free, downloadable stock images that can be posted or edited without the worry of copyright infringement. Such images are protected under Creative Commons Zero (CC0), which means that the owner of the image or video has “dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law.” This means that anyone is free to copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work even for commercial purposes without having to ask permission. The following is a list of websites we recommend. Those who have uploaded photos to these websites have waived their copyright to their images or videos, allowing others to use them and edit them as they please.
Always Ask for Permission
This has been a common theme in this post, but we cannot stress its importance enough. Before posting anyone’s image on social media, always ask for permission. It is as simple as shooting them a direct message or leaving a comment on their post. Chances are that they will say yes, especially if they are a fan of your brand or if you have a large following. Even if the person shares a post that features your products or services, you still need to ask permission. Sharing user generated content is a great way to engage with customers and build relationships, but only if done correctly.
Seek Legal Advice from an Attorney
The information provided in this post is not legal advice, and is intended for information purposes only. You should always seek advice from a qualified attorney before making any legal decisions for yourself or your company. We recommend you consult with an attorney in your area that specializes in copyright law if you need additional information. Avvo and Nolo also offer more comprehensive legal information and offer the opportunity to ask questions directly to attorneys.