With social media platforms—both old and new—becoming more and more popular, the risk of copyright infringement through the sharing of content is more crucial now than ever before.

Many social media platforms give the ability to re-post, save, or share other people’s content. We see a beautiful, inspirational, thoughtful, or educational photo that we want to share with our followers, so we post it and move on. But, could this be considered copyright infringement?  When so many options are available, allowing you to share someone’s photo at the click of a button, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the potential legal implications of what you share on social media.

Is it okay to retweet? Yes. Is it okay to re-pin images on Pinterest? Probably. Is it okay to repost on Instagram? Sometimes. It’s important to remember that all social media platforms have different rules and take big steps to protect themselves and their users. To know what is or isn’t acceptable for each platform, check out each one’s Terms of Service. You can also find out more about general digital copyrights by going to https://www.copyright.gov/.

For all the postings you create for your socials, you’ll have to make sure that the content constitutes as “fair use” under the Copyright Act. While this seems like it could be intimidating—do I have to check a long list of “yes” and “no’s?”—there are really four main components of “fair use” to keep in mind:

• Purpose and nature of the use

• Nature of the work

• Amount and substantiality of the used portion

• Effect of the use on the value of the copyrighted work

All of the above components work together with one main goal in mind—to protect the integrity of the creator’s work. For more detailed information on “fair use,” visit https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html.

So, big question: What are the legal implications of re-posting, saving, or sharing other people’s content on social?

According to Rory Kay of McDonald Carano, in an interview with IPWatchdog.com, “Re-posting, saving, and sharing other persons’ content on social media is far more impactful than the simple click of a button. In fact, infringing on an author’s copyright by re-posting, saving or sharing content is no different than other forms of copyright violations. Infringers can be held liable for actual damages and their additional profits or statutory damages. If the infringement was willful, courts may increase damages up to six-figure awards.”

Kay added, “The golden rule is simple: if the content was offline rather than online, would you seek out permission to use it? If so, you must do so online just as you would offline.”

Here are some fail-safe ways to make sure your socials are staying on the safe side of copyright law:

1) Receive Permission

The best way to utilize copyrighted content is by seeking the author’s permission. If it’s an image that you want to use, you can track down the author of the image with the help of the watermark or any link provided. If you receive permission, you can then use that content, give credit (i.e. tag) the original author and link it with your post. To be really proactive, keep records of the permissions you receive. If you can’t reach the creator of the content, you can contact the Copyright Clearance Center for help receiving permissions.

2) Use Images from the Public Domain

It’s always ideal to use images from sites which have no copyright restrictions. Websites such as Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons, Pexels, and Feerange, offer images for use that don’t have copyright restrictions. You can let your imagination have free rein! These sites have images on a just about any topics you can think of for your content creation purposes, so they’re a fairly easy way to avoid potential copyright issues.

If you really want to play it safe you can purchase copyrighted content for a nominal fee from websites such as Shutterstock, Bigstock and iStock. This would be our recommendation if you plan to regularly use images to support your social media posts and marketing collateral.

3) When in Doubt, Throw it Out

Wondering whether or not an image is copyrighted but are hitting a wall when researching its source? Don’t use it. If you ever have any doubts about where content came from, or whether or not it is open to the public to use, do yourself a favor and find another option. You’ll save yourself the time of researching and the worry of wondering, and you’ll be able to incorporate a piece of content you are confident you are allowed to use. 

The bottom line is that using images on social media and for online business these days is tricky. As is often the case, the law is behind and may take a while to catch up. But if you can keep these tips in mind as you use images, content, and videos on social media, you’ll be way ahead of the curve. Educating yourself about copyright, social media platform terms, and image licenses will go a long way in protecting yourself. Being proactive is key in our technology-driven world!