Sharing Isn’t Always Caring: Navigating the World of Social Media and Copyright

 In Social Media

Social media is built on the idea of sharing. Users upload and share content every second on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. As a business, what images can you share? Whose thoughts are you allowed to repost? The world of copyright and social media is more complicated than you might think. It’s easy to find yourself in trouble for sharing something that isn’t yours to distribute.

The Basics

How does something become copyrighted? To be protected by copyright law, the content must exist in physical form (for example, a poem written on paper). It also requires some kind of creative effort. A creator does not need to complete any kind of registration to be protected by copyright law.

One common misconception is that if you create something, you automatically own it. This is not always true. For example, imagine a photographer signs a work-for-hire contract. In that case, the client automatically owns all photos captured within the terms of that agreement.  In most other circumstances, however, you own the content you create and you may do with it as you please.

Other exceptions include content in the Public Domain or content shared under Fair Use rules. Something is considered Fair Use if it’s used for educational purposes, for criticism or for satire. Don’t bank on being able to use something under the umbrella of Fair Use, however – its actual uses and permissions are often murky. When in doubt, play it safe.

Ask First, Share Later

With the rising popularity of user-generated content, many brands encourage followers to share photos and videos of their products on social media. Just because a brand is tagged does not mean they have the liberty to share the content without permission.

One common mistake is believing you can share whatever you want, from whatever source, as long as you give credit. Attributing and tagging the owner is a good practice, but it does not count as permission. In order to legally share an image under copyright law, you must have permission in writing.

Another common copyright mistake is pulling images directly from a Google search. Although it may seem like the easiest way to find an image, using photos from search results without written permission from the image owner is a violation of copyright law. If you need a featured image for a blog or social media post, try using a stock photo site such as Shutterstock or Creative Commons.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re making money from the content or if you’re not benefiting from it at all.  No matter what, you need permission.

Why Does it Matter?

Let’s face it – people violate copyright law on social media every day. Photos are posted to Instagram without written permission. Third-party sites repost videos to Facebook to rack up millions of views. It would be nearly impossible to track down every case of copyright infringement on social media, and the only person who can prosecute you is the owner. Why, then, should we care about carefully following copyright laws on social media?

It boils down to a combination of integrity and reputation. Being sloppy on social media may feel like the easiest way to quickly create and share content, but it only takes one mistake to ruin your company’s reputation. It only takes one person prosecuting you for misuse of their content to land you in a legal battle that could cost you thousands.

To avoid costly mistakes, it’s a good idea to have clear social media policies for your business or organization. Establish guidelines on the use of copyrighted materials. Always aim to create new and original content. When it is appropriate to share content you don’t own, choose carefully and always ask for permission.  At the end of the day, you want to represent your company with content you are confident in.

Are you looking to grow your business through social media? Give us a call today at 850-668-0510 to learn how Fiore Communications can help you leverage social media to connect with and expand your audience.

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