Can I use this image on social media?
It’s well known that images click on social media. And they’re also what we click on. In general, posts with visuals get more views, likes, and shares than posts that don’t.
But sourcing images for social media isn’t always straightforward. The legalese found in image copyright policies can be intimidating. From Attribution Noncommercial-No Derivative Works licenses to “fair use,” there’s a lot to unpack.
There’s a lot at stake, too. Breaches of copyright can land your business in court with hefty fines, and “I didn’t know better” won’t fly as a valid defense. Especially if an image is used for social media marketing.
Just so it’s clear - I have/would never give permission for use of my son’s photo to promote any agenda of this vile man or that disgusting party. https://t.co/AVdl9dxXCs— Laney Griner (@laneymg) January 23, 2020
But once you know the rules, it’s easy to follow them. Plus there are several stock photo sites out there that make finding photos for social media stress free (Unsplash, for example).
What is image copyright?
Put simply, image copyright is image ownership. It’s a form of legal protection that is automatically given to a creator as soon as an image is snapped, saved, or drawn. Photographs, digital art, maps, charts, and paintings are all fair game.
Laws about image copyright vary by country. Fortunately, 177 countries—including Canada and the United States—are members of the Berne Convention treaty, which sets basic copyright standards.
According to the treaty (and Canadian and U.S. copyright laws), a copyright owner has exclusive rights to:
Reproduce the work
Make derivatives of the work
Display the work publicly
Distribute the work to the public
Sounds simple, but it can sometimes get confusing.
Here’s an example. Remember the star-studded selfie snapped on Ellen DeGeneres’ phone during the 2014 Academy Awards? Technically, the owner of that image’s copyright is Bradley Cooper. Why? Even though he used Degeneres’ phone, he took the photo.
That means, legally, Degeneres needed to ask Cooper for permission to post the photo. This example is popular with intellectual property lawyers, who use it to show that copyright ownership is not always as obvious as it seems.
If it’s not your image, find out who created it and ask for permission to use it.
How to tell if you can use an image on social media
Social media may seem like a grey area when it comes to image copyright, but it’s not.
The same rules apply. If you want to use an image that isn’t yours you must obtain permission to use it—whether through a license or the creator directly. If you request permission and it’s granted, keep a record on hand for future reference.
When someone shares an image on a public account, that doesn’t make it public domain. They still own the copyright. But there are some unique ways copyright can be shared on social media.
Does this clarify image use?
Let us know in the comments below!