Social media marketing requires respect for image creators’ copyright

Eye-catching imagery has become essential to marketing your brand on social media. Finding, or creating the perfect image to help tell the story of your business can determine if your audience stops to learn more, or moves on. With over 3.2 billion images being shared each day (via Nielsen, 2018), there is a lot of content at the hands of businesses who want to use it.

How copyright works

But, before you hit “share” on a random image you find online — remember — just because it is online or on social media — does not mean you can use it for your brand. How copyrights work, both online and offline, is that if you create something new, you own the copyright to it.

When you put something up online, it belongs to you, and you can take steps if someone tries to pass off your work as theirs. For those sharing content, also remember that all of your family images are still yours, even if you share on Facebook or Instagram — no matter what random hoax memos say.

How the nature of sharing on social media works is that Facebook allows others to share your content; Twitter allows others to retweet your videos or photos; and Instagram can display one of your posts in a hashtag search, or allow users to share content from the feed in their stories without the networks paying users or infringing on their copyright.

With any social network, these are usually automatically set up, but privacy settings can change that.

Even with so much content being shared, the creator never loses the copyright to their photos, videos, or lengthy Facebook rants. If someone (a person, or a brand marker) takes your original content and shares it on their own social media, email newsletter or website — then the original creator could take legal recourse to get paid for that content, or have it taken down.

Marketers: Don’t be scared; be prepared

Yes, even if a customer takes an image at your winery, restaurant or hotel, or shares a picture of your wine, and tags you — that piece of content is owned by that customer. You cannot and should not simply copy, paste and share.

But, what you can do instead, is ask to share. In fact, it is a great way to build an ongoing relationship with the customer. Trust me, customers love being praised on social media for their pretty pictures of your product. Build up a collection of user-generated content (UGC) for social media marketing efforts.

How brands can navigate the legal waters

I talked to the marketing and reservations manager at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, Rachel Kuali’i, about their efforts with UGC, in-house content and working with influencers to help create content from a unique point of view.

“Our content is about 50/50 with in-house generated and user generated. We have a small marketing team so user-generated content is a huge help for our social and marketing efforts,” says Rachel.

In addition to having influencers come to the hotel and share their experiences with their own online audiences (dissected in June’s column on influencer marketing), Farmhouse works with these content creators to help create images and videos that see the hotel from the point of view of a customer, versus someone who works there every day.

“We find that our user-generated content works best on social media. It helps tell the story of Farmhouse through the guest experience,” she says.

In addition to working with content creators, or taking images in-house, marketers can get free stock images, which tend to be very generic. Here are 20 places to get free stock images, compiled by social media posting service Hootsuite. You can pay to license stock images with a website like Getty or iStock. Best yet, hire a North Bay photographer and work with them so you own the rights to the custom imagery they create for you.

At the end of the day

With so many legitimate sources of free and paid images for social media sharing, there’s no excuse for your business to use copyrighted work without permission. It’s unfair to the content creator and it puts your business at risk