It is widely known that is it not ok for brands to just google image search a photo for their next marketing campaign so why should social media images be any different?
We recently published an article called ‘Regram rules: Is ok for brands to share other people’s content on Instagram?’ discussing the correct and legal practices for brands to use externally sourced images.
Now we want to discuss the other side of the coin for all the creators of original content out there. As photographers and creatives it is important to know what your rights are and when the legal and moral lines are being crossed.
Who owns your content?
Sharing images on social media does not compromise your copyright, you still own the image and only you get to decide who gets to use it.
Tagging a brand in your image or using a branded hashtag does not constitute consent for them to share your image, they must still get your permission to share. Occasionally you may wish to indicate to your audience where a certain item in your image came from and you should feel safe to tag any brands you photograph without implying that it is ok for them to use your content.
Legally is it ok?
Instagram’s terms of service have their rights covered and it is worth having a quick read over their basic terms of service. The platform is not liable for copyright infringement and the responsibility to seek correct permissions for sharing content is passed onto the brand or individual account holder.
Instagram is very clear in their Copyright F.A.Q section that they are committed to helping users protect their individual copyright and that they do not permit the submission of content that infringes the intellectual property rights of others.
According to Legalvision if the creative work is not being posted and passed off as their own then brands can share other people’s content without directly violating copyright laws. The distinction between whether reposting social media content infringes on copyright or not seems to be made between what is considered ‘posting’ and ‘sharing’. Although with Instagram not coming with an actual share function this statement quickly becomes very murky and potentially confusing for brands and creators.
Copyright law differs according to the country where the images are reproduced or shared and there may be some ‘fair use/dealing’ situations which allow people to use your images under certain circumstances. Common examples include: criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, education, and research. Once again this is all outlined in the Copyright section of Instagram’s Help Centre so if you have any further questions it is well worth the read.
Morally is it ok?
Whether you are a professional photographer or a hobbyist content creator, it can feel nice having a big brand regram your image and sometimes it can generate some great exposure for your account. However for many content creators, recognition and exposure is not enough and unfairly infringes on your copyright.
As content creators we spend years developing our skills and invest lots of money into our equipment. It can be disheartening when businesses and other accounts use our work without seeking permission or providing proper compensation.
For many businesses, Instagram is an extension of their marketing strategy and by sharing your content they are using your images for their own self-promotion. This leads many content creators to feel like they are being taken advantage of and that their work should not be used to market brands for free.
It is ok to apply your own moral guidelines to whether you allow brands to reshare your content online. There are many different scenarios in which a brand or business may wish to post your content on Instagram and each use should be assessed individually. If brands are sharing your images without obtaining your permission with the intent of furthering their own brand, it is ok for you to question it even when properly credited.
What can I do if someone shares my image without permission?
If brands are repeatedly sharing your content without permission your can report the violation to Instagram by filling out the Copyright reporting form. Instagram states that they will disable the accounts of those who repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights.
While the distinction between ‘posting’ and ‘sharing’ can be a little murky within the platform, it is very clear cut if the content is being shared outside of Instagram. If third parties are using images sourced from Instagram in a commercial context outside the platform you may wish to seek legal action as this is likely a direct infringement on copyright law.
A photographer named Max Dubler famously contacted every brand that had regrammed his content asking for payment. In his article “No, You Can’t Use My Photos on Your Brand’s Instagram for Free,” Dubler explains why he charges for-profit companies a fee to use his photos because they are making money off his work.
What can you do to prevent copyright infringement?
While there is nothing you can do to prevent brands misusing your content, there are some things you can do to make it easier for them to obtain permission or to protect your intellectual property. You can place a copyright symbol or a watermark on your content and ensure that you don’t post the full or high-resolution versions anywhere online. Simply adding your email address to your Instagram account may make it simpler for brands to ask for permission and give you the opportunity to discuss compensation.
If have read Instagram’s Help Center and still have further questions about your rights when it comes to copyright and intellectual property it may be worth seeking proper legal counsel in your country of residence.