Social media copyright terms: How to promote AND protect your work

Feature photo: APhoto by NeONBRAND, licensed under CC0

Social media is an essential promotional tool for photographers and visual artists. Platforms like Instagram can form the cornerstone of your business, boosting visibility and getting your work in front of global audiences. At the same time, however, image theft on such platforms is rife, with a recent report revealing that 49 percent of bloggers and social media users have infringed copyright.

There’s a common misconception that uploading your work to social media means you forfeit your copyright and are powerless if someone uses your work without permission – but that’s not true. According to the terms and conditions of almost every social media site, original users retain the copyright to their work.

Here’s how to use social media to benefit your business while minimizing the risk of your work being used without authorization.

Remember: You own the copyright to your work

When you sign up to a social media site, you have to agree to its terms of use. In most cases, you will grant the site a license to use the content that you post. You also confirm that you own the copyright to the content that you post. This simply means that you allow the platform to display your work (see the terms below for more details). It does not mean that you hand over ownership of the copyright; nor does it mean you are unable to take action against infringement of any work you share on the platform.

The relevant paragraphs for the major social media sites are below.

Make it easy for people to contact you to buy or license your work

There are a number of simple but effective things you can do to maximize the potential of social media. Firstly, make sure that, if possible, your social media handle contains your professional name, to make it even easier for image users to find and identify you. It’s also important to clearly include your contact details in each post, along with relevant links to your website. Including the copyright symbol (©) in your caption is another good way to reiterate your ownership of the work.

In addition, for extra protection, some photographers choose to watermark the images they share (we discuss the pros and cons of this approach in more detail here).

Take control over how people share your work

When it comes to social media, sharing images is not necessarily the same as using them without authorization. For example, if you post one of your images under a “public” privacy setting, other users are able to share that original post with their network. This is often within the terms of the social media platform and does not constitute copyright infringement (think of Twitter’s retweet function, for example). Your profile and contact details remain attached to the post, so you benefit from the exposure while retaining ownership of the work.

You might also want to consider installing a social media share button on your website. This lets people share your work on their social media profiles while allowing you to control the information that gets included in the post.

Check periodically for infringement

Some image creators take an active approach in protecting their copyright by using reverse image search. A service like Pixsy monitors the web for use of their work 24/7. This way they can easily find out if their images have been used online without authorization.

Submit a copyright infringement complaint on social media

If you do discover that your work has been used without authorization on a social media platform, the most direct route to resolution is usually directly through the platform. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all have structured processes for filing a complaint, which, if successful, may lead to the infringer’s post being taken down.

To maximize the chances of a successful claim, be sure to document evidence of the unauthorized use of your work on the social media platform. Gather links, take screenshots, and make notes of dates, times, and the handle of the user(s) in question.

If you’d like to know more about your alternative options, check out our article on what to do when your work is stolen.

Copyright terms of major social media sites

Instagram

We do not claim ownership of your content, but you grant us a license to use it.

Nothing is changing about your rights in your content. We do not claim ownership of your content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Service, you hereby grant to us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings) for purposes of making the Instagram Service available. You can end this license anytime by deleting your content or account. However, content will continue to appear if you shared it with others and they have not deleted it.

Facebook

You own the content that you create and share on Facebook and the other Facebook Products you use, and nothing in these Terms takes away the rights that you have to your own content. You are free to share your content with anyone else, wherever you want. To provide our services, however, we need you to give us some legal permissions to use this content.

Specifically, when you share, post or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (e.g. photos or videos) on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable and worldwide licence to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings). This license is only for the purpose of making our Products available to you. This means, for example, that if you share a photo on Facebook, you give us permission to store, copy and share it with others (again, consistent with your settings) such as service providers that support our service or other Facebook Products that you use.

You can end this license at any time by deleting your content or account. You should know that, for technical reasons, any content that you delete may persist for a limited period of time in backup copies (though it will not be visible to other users). In addition, content that you delete may continue to appear if you have shared it with others and they have not deleted it.

Twitter

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. What’s yours is yours — you own your Content (and your incorporated audio, photos, and videos are considered part of the Content).

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). This license authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to provide, promote, and improve the Services and to make Content submitted to or through the Services available to other companies, organizations or individuals for the syndication, broadcast, distribution, promotion or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use. Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.

You represent and warrant that you have, or have obtained, all rights, licenses, consents, permissions, power and/or authority necessary to grant the rights granted herein for any Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services. You agree that such Content will not contain material subject to copyright or other proprietary rights unless you have necessary permission or are otherwise legally entitled to post the material and to grant Twitter the license described above.

Pinterest

Pinterest allows you to post content, including photos, comments, links, and other materials. Anything that you post or otherwise make available on Pinterest is referred to as “User Content.” You retain all rights in and are solely responsible for, the User Content you post to Pinterest. More simply put: If you post your content on Pinterest, it still belongs to you.

You grant Pinterest and our users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, save, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using Pinterest. Nothing in these Terms restricts other legal rights Pinterest may have to User Content, for example under other licenses. We reserve the right to remove or modify User Content or change the way it’s used in Pinterest, for any reason. This includes User Content that we believe violates these Terms, our Community Guidelines, or any other policies. More simply put: If you post your content on Pinterest, we can show it to people and others can save it. Don’t post porn or spam or be a jerk to other people on Pinterest.

tl;dr

  • Signing up to a social media site does not mean you sign away the copyright of work you upload.
  • Use a professional handle that includes your name, and make sure you include contact details and copyright info in each post you upload to social media. This all helps increase your visibility and business potential.
  • Encourage people to share your work from your profile, so you can gain visibility without losing control of the original work and credit.
  • Keep checking for infringement. Use a service like Pixsy to monitor the web for use of your work 24/7.
  • If you do discover your work has been used without authorization on social media, you can submit a takedown request directly through the platform in question or by using a takedown service such as Pixsy Takedowns.

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