Is Your Brand's Social Media Assets Infringing Someone's Copyright?
Unattributed photos have been passed around for years on the Internet, especially on Facebook and Instagram. Is your brand's visual assets infringing someone's copyright?
Social media is full of beautiful pictures. As a photographer, it’s the perfect field of study for inspiration and improving my technique.
It’s also where many copyright infringement cases take place.
“I found the picture in Google Images. So I assumed I could use it for my blog post.”
“I’m not sure who took this picture, but I shared it because it’s pretty.”
Unattributed photos have been passed around for years on the Internet, especially on Facebook and Instagram. Even some publications are guilty of it. Or worse, those who use them sometimes claim ownership.
The most recent scandal of Guess using Banksy’s images for their designs and store interior is just one example of how even the biggest brands are guilty (or oblivious) of copyright laws and ethics.
While that case is special (Guess appears to have a deal with a third-party company who owns the right to reuse Banksy’s works), the reputation crisis is still something the brand is going to deal with. And if Guess is likely to have the budgets to fight back, your business is likely to be buried if it falls prey to a scandal like this one.
Is your brand's visual assets infringing someone's copyright?
It is best to avoid copyright infringement problems at all costs.
I know that many people are genuinely unaware that copyright laws apply offline AND online. But others do it with full knowledge of the facts.
“To start, you should assume that all online images are protected by copyright. Then do your research to determine if the image you want to use actually requires permission,” says Lesley Ellen Harris, the founder and CEO of Copyrightlaws.com.
Just because an image has no obvious creator’s name next to it doesn’t mean it is free to use.
Almost anything published on the Internet receives automatic copyright — whether they sport the copyright symbol or not. Exceptions include non-recorded and non-written works (e.g. improvisational speeches or performances), titles, slogans, ideas / concepts, and content used from public documents.
Thankfully, there is a Creative Commons license allowing businesses to re-use images, videos and audio files on their official channels. You can search Google for images with Creative Commons license attached to them.
Always carefully read image information before downloading and reusing any image. Some creators will let you reuse their images anywhere, others ask for a link back to their profiles. In most cases, the best-case scenario is to try and get in touch with a creator to get their explicit permission to re-use their works.
There is always a creator behind the content you find on blogs, websites, and social networks. Make sure you have permission before using their work and give credit where credit is due. And if you are unsure of the source, do not gamble with fate. You could be sued for copyright infringement.
Also, there’s always a factor of how you are going to use those images. For example, if you are tweeting it or uploading to Instagram while giving credit to a creator, there is no risk.
But if you are going to start a business using those images for commercial purposes (like a Tshirt or Poster business), you will need an absolutely different source of agreement, almost a partnership with the creator.
In other words, if you are going to make money using those images, you need to be extra careful as to which license you are using. It is always best to be in touch with image creators and have their permission to use their creative work for business purposes.
Actually, why not create your own graphics? There are quite a few tools allowing you to do that! Many of those tools come with their own libraries of images you can modify and publish on your business accounts without the fear of infringing any copyright laws.
Additionally, you can create infographics to publish on your own site or Pinterest. You can also create visual quotes to visualize your customers’ testimonials and positive reviews.
Make sure to personalize your images using your logo to build brand recognizability. Resize your images to fit each social media platform better. Here is a good list of the most recent image size specifications for major social media platforms, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
Use your creativity to come up with attention-grabbing images to increase engagement of your social media accounts and stand out in your followers’ social media feeds.
Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a lawyer. If you have any legal concerns or questions, please consult a certified lawyer.