It’s my Social Media Right to Copy, Right?

In a world full of pins, posts, blogs, tweets and re-tweets, digital content is made to be shared. However, amongst this ever-evolving content creating, curating and sharing world, there’s one thorn-in-the-side reality that challenges our digital age – copyright. This article aims to answer some underlying questions about copyright and how to keep you and your digital engagement legal.

The last time the U.S Copyright Law was updated was in 1976; long before internet file sharing and the emergence of social media. A continuing effort to “fix” copyright law is certainly underway but until there is legislative redress, we must work within the current framework. To do so, we must first understand the basics of copyright law.

What is Copyright?
Copyright is a federal law of the United States that protects original works of authorship. A work of authorship includes literary, written, dramatic, artistic, musical and certain other types of works, e.g., a photographer takes a pictures, a musician records a tune, or a writer puts pencil to paper.
Contrary to popular belief, copyright does not need to be registered nor does it require special paperwork. As soon as you click record, apply paint to canvas, or type words, you’ve got a copyright. (You can even use the official copyright circle with a “C”)

Copyright gives the original author a bundle of exclusive rights that has substantial control over his/her work.
1. Reproduction
2. Distribution of copies
3. Prepare derivatives of the work
4. Display the work

Can I re-use photos I find on the internet for my blog or website?
Yes and no. This is where it gets a little tricky and if you’re not mindful of the laws in place, you could end up with a lawsuit. To answer this question properly, we first need to look at the fair use doctrine.

The fair use doctrine allows limited and reasonable uses of a copyrighted work. “Fairness” depends on four criteria’s: (1) the purpose and character of the use; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and portion used verse the work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market or value of the copyrighted work.
Not to be confused with free use, fair use is a legal exception to the exclusive rights an owner has for his or her copyrighted work.

A classic example of fair use would be online product reviews. Let’s say you want to review a new piece of technology, or the latest real estate app, you’ll likely want to include a photo.
So you head to the manufacturer’s/owners website and right-click that image and save it to upload to your blog. A photo will not substitute for the actual product, so the owner’s rights should be very minimally affected. Therefore, your right to use the copyrighted image would likely be permitted under fair use.

On the other hand, let’s say you need a photo of a building or landscape to beef up your website, so you Google it in Google Images. Hundreds of images show up; is it fair use? No, but you may still be able to use it if the owner grants public use terms.

Google images are no exception to copyright law. When you click on a photo, you will find in small print on the right-hand side, “Images may be subject to copyright”. To find out if you can use the photo, you need to check under the photo’s Terms of Use (typically located on the owner’s website). If you can’t find one, you probably shouldn’t use the image as it will most likely be a violation of copyright.
Many times, the best way to find out is to simply send an email asking permission. On occasion, photographers will grant permission as long as you link back to their website.

What about Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter where everyone shares photos?
The same copyright rules apply when grabbing photos off websites or Google and posting them on social media. If the image is copyrighted and you don’t have permission to use it, it’s illegal.
However, social media sites make sure they are not the victim of copyright infringement through their terms and privacy notice. And by posting either your own or others’ content on their sites, you are granting them a license to use the content anyway they see fit.

Pinterest’s terms of service says that Pinterest does not take your copyright to photos. But, by signing up for Pinterest and agreeing to their terms and privacy notice, you have agreed to give Pinterest
a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify (e.g., re-format), re-arrange, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest for the purposes of operating and providing the Service(s) to you and to our other Users.

In other words, Pinterest can use your content on its site because you have agreed to give them a license to use it as described in this agreement, without payment.
The Pinterest copyright statement includes a link where you can file a complaint against someone you feel has violated your copyright.
Facebook and Twitter are similar to Pinterest in that although you still “own” the photograph, you grant them a license to use your photograph anyway they see fit, and you grant them the right to let others use you picture as well.

Under Facebook’s current terms, until you delete your account, they can use any content that you post in connection with Facebook. The license ends when you delete your account.
Under Twitter’s terms, your photos and videos (twitpics) may be reprinted and used in anything – books, magazines, movies, TV shows, billboards and can be used for a “reasonable amount of time” after you delete your account. So be careful what you “tweet”!

Almost everyone is guilty or knows someone guilty of pulling pictures off Google. And frankly, almost everyone doing it had no clue it could be illegal. Do you know someone who’s been sued? Probably not. To each his own…..Just be cautious.

What if there’s a “share” button on a website or image?
I’m sure you’ve been to a website or blog where there’s a “share” tab. In this situation, they want you to post their content over all your social pages; and it’s covered under the fair-use act, as they are giving you permission to use/share their content. Share until your heart’s content.

Where can I find quality images that won’t get me in trouble?
There are a number of stock photo sources that offer free or low cost options. The following is a list of websites offering free or cheap, high quality photos: Freerange Stock is a completely free stock photo community, supported by advertising revenue and showcasing photographs from talented photographers. Community members can browse the site, download photos for personal and commercial use and sign up to contribute their own work for a share of ad revenue. MorgueFile is home to a very user-friendly stock photography database of more than 200,000 images spanning a wide variety of subjects. Anyone can visit the site, browse and instantly download photos and participate in community bulletin boards, all for free.

Stock Exchange: Sign up for a free account at stock.xchng and begin browsing more than 350,000 free photos provided by more than 30,000 photographers. Arguably one of the most valuable resources for a nonprofit, Flickr: Creative Commons boasts more than 100 million Creative Commons licensed images. Easily search more than 18,000 high-quality stock photos at Offering both free and for-purchase royalty-free images, Dreamstime invites registered users to browse, download and buy photos from a selection of more than 9 million images. iClipart sets itself apart from other stock photo sites by offering a large selection of clip art alongside photos and flexible subscription plans ranging from one week for $12.95 to one year for $49.95. With more than 5 million royalty-free images, Bigstock is becoming a major competitor in the stock photo space. Bigstock is free to join and its design makes it simple for members to manage their account.

As a final reminder, be cautious of the right-click, save as. If you’re not sure if you can use a photo, don’t use it. And finally, keep this list of free photos as your image artillery on file, at all times.


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