Coping With Copyright: How To Legally Use Images In Your Social Media Campaigns



Using images that you’ve found on Google or some stock picture website can leave you at risk for copyright lawsuits if you don’t know what you’re doing.


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[DISCLAIMER] All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about this topic. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice.

This blog post originally appeared on the Signature Social blog.

Finding images on the internet is easy. Just go to your favorite search engine, type in the image that you want, and choose from among the thousands of results that will pop up. However, using stuff that you’ve found off Google or some stock picture website can leave you at risk for copyright lawsuits if you don’t know what you’re doing.

To protect yourself from copyright infringement cases, it’s best to read up about the terms of the social media platforms that you use. Different social media platforms have different approaches and rules when it comes to user-generated content. Here are some sample questions that you might ask when using images on these sites: can you freely share another user’s images on Tumblr within the platform? Can you take it OFF Tumblr and use it on your own site? Is retweeting okay? Is reposting another person’s photo on Instagram okay? The only way to know the legal limits with which you can use someone’s content on a platform is to read the fine print on their Terms and Conditions document.

Pinterest, for example, is very specific on how its users can repin and share other user’s images on the site. You can freely repin content made by other Pinterest users within the site itself. However, you can’t take content from other websites and blog pages outside of Pinterest, and pin it on the platform without the owner’s consent. You can only share or repin something if the content you’re sharing comes from the original creator, who themselves, are on Pinterest. You can’t pin anything made by other people if you don’t have their permission. Check the original pin and see if the original creator is the one who is posting it.

The Kinds of Licenses That Your Stock Photo Website Provides

Stock image repositories are great places to acquire pictures and graphical content legally. These sites work by allowing people to “buy” the use of their images through licenses. These licenses come in different levels and price points: usually, the lower-level, cheap licenses give you limited usage over the image (i.e you are only allowed to use it a specific number of times in your work) you may provide you with a lower quality version of the image, while more expensive licenses give you more freedom in regards to usage.

If you’re going to use a stock photo, make sure that you pay for the right kind of license. The cheapest license is usually not the right option for you especially if you’re planning to use an image publicly or for profit, like in a social media campaign. These low-level licenses may only allow personal use of the image (i.e. you can’t use it for business) or they may restrict your use to web-only (i.e. you can’t use the image in printed materials like brochures and leaflets).

Stock photo sites usually have license guidelines where you can see the specific usage rules for each license level. Read this first before paying for anything so that you’ll be able to get your money’s worth. Remember: using an image beyond what is specified in the license makes you liable for copyright infringement, even if you paid for the license beforehand.

How Image or Content Creators Want Their Work to be Credited

Here’s a fun fact: reposting is actually a direct violation of Instagram Terms. But almost everyone seems to be in on the practice with no problems whatsoever; there are even popular Insta users who are solely dedicated to reposting content and pictures made by others.

This is due to the fact that most Instagram users work within an unspoken rule that it is OKAY to repost other people’s content, as long as you provide some sort of attribution to the original creator like a link back or a mention to their profile page. It is also acceptable practice to tag the original poster in the body of the reposted image.

However, this is not the case for all creators on all social media sites. While others are okay with mere attribution, some might want you to directly contact them first before you can use their photos or content. This is especially true for professional photographers, artists, and other content creators who make a living off their creations.

It’s always best to stay on the safe side. Ask first, before using images, pictures, sound clips, videos, or any other kind of content that other people have made.

The Law on Copyright

It’s important to note that copyright protection is automatic. Once a person made something (provided that he or she did not make it under contract), it’s theirs to keep and use. There is no need to put the copyright symbol on it or make any written declaration to that effect.

As the popular saying goes “Prevention is better than cure.” Knowing the basics of copyright law will prevent you from getting yourself entangled in pesky copyright cases in the first place. You just need to know what the definition of copyright is, the kinds of work that it covers (visual arts, literary pieces, motion pictures, etcetera), and how it is applied to various situations. Knowing your rights and the rights of content creators is the first step to protecting yourself.

The Law on Fair Use

Fair Use is a term that has been thrown around lately, mainly by people who like to repurpose other people’s content to make new ones of their own (e.g. a person using clips of another video for review purposes). While fair use gives you the right to comment, criticize, or parody a piece of work, you can’t claim fair use by integrating other people’s work into your own. Fair use also doesn’t cover attribution- even if you’ve attributed someone in a piece of content, if the original owner doesn’t give you permission- then it’s no go.

Always put yourself in the original creator’s shoes. Is it alright if someone takes a piece of your work and use it for their own purposes? If the answer’s no, then think twice before using another person’s image for your online marketing campaign.


On the internet, you can easily copy-paste another person’s work into your own and call it day. However, this does not make this practice right. Copyright laws exist for a reason. While the law might still have a bit of catching up to do (especially regarding work published on the web), it WILL catch up eventually and violators might be heavily penalized.

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