Copywrite LawDo you share images in your social media marketing? Are you legally using images? If you are asking that question then you are more than likely unsure.

More and more people are using images to enhance documents, annual reports, websites and blogs. As a universal rule, most images are protected by copyright laws and you need permission to use the image as is, or to adapt it.

Wondering if you’re violating copyright laws? With a bit of information, you can learn to protect yourself and your business from a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Legally Using Images Under the U.S. Copyright Act

The U.S. Copyright Act defines images as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.” These works are defined to include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans. Illustrations, photographs, charts and the like are all protected by copyright. The owner of the copyright has exclusive rights to reproduce the image, prepare new images and other works based on the original image, distribute copies of the image to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, and display the image in public.

Legally Using Images on Social Media Platforms

Does the use of an image on your social media site require permission? Is it okay to retweet? Sure. Is it okay to repin images on Pinterest? Maybe. Is it okay to repost on Instagram? Sometimes.

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, read each platform’s Terms of Service/Use/Conditions.

On Pinterest, you’re allowed to repin other images only to Pinterest (meaning, you can’t copy to another platform). However, if the image you’re repinning appears on Pinterest without permission from the author, you could be committing copyright infringement because you’re “solely responsible” for anything you post. Make sure you check the source of the original pin to make sure the author and that picture are on Pinterest.

On Instagram, did you know that reposting is actually in violation of Instagram Terms? But, given the platform and how it works, 99% of users are okay with (and like!) reposting that includes the good etiquette of linking back to their profiles.

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Choose the Right License When Using Stock Images

If you use stock images, you often have choices about what type of license you need for using the image. Typically, the more expensive the license, the more you can do with the image. When you use a stock art service like iStockmake sure the license you choose allows how you’re using the image. Many licenses limit the purchaser to personal use only, online media only (versus print), or a certain number of uses.

If you’re a designer or you use stock art to create images for others, make sure you have the license to do so. Sometimes you may need to make sure your customer buys the license directly from the company. On the website where you purchased the image, look for license guidelines or you can always reach out and ask the company if your license permits your intended use of a picture.

Get Permission from the Image Creator

If the image is part of the design of your blog and/or repetitively used or adapted for your use, you will need permission to use the image. If the image is part of a particular posting in a blog, you will need to apply the fair use factors and determine on a case-by-case basis whether your use requires permission. If you’re questioning whether to use an image or video, ask! In today’s online world, most people are probably happy to give you permission to use their image, provided you give them credit.

The few circumstances when you don’t need permission are applicable when the copyright owner has clearly stated that you may freely use the image without obtaining permission or the image has a Creative Commons (CC) license. Make sure you read that license! Does it specifically allow your use of the image? What do the terms and conditions of the CC license permit and is your use within those parameters?

Just a word of warning: Some photographers and attorneys are on the hunt for people infringing copyright. Unfortunately, with copyright infringement, you can’t claim you didn’t know what you were doing, and are likely on the hook for damages under the statute.


The truth is that using images on social media and for online business these days is tricky. As is often the case, the law is behind the times and may take a while to catch up. Educating yourself about copyright, social media platform terms, and image licenses will go a long way in protecting you. When in doubt, ask. “Better safe than sorry” is a great motto when thinking about whether you’re using images and videos legally.


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