One of my biggest frustrations in teaching social media and digital marketing is the attitude of many towards using images and other content they do not have the rights to. This is a fairly complicated topic, and I understand that some genuinely get confused. Others know it’s wrong – and still do it. I’ve been researching and teaching this topic for years and there is still a lot of grey area for me so my suggestion is to always err on the side of caution, both legally and ethically. This means – if you didn’t create the image – don’t use it. Or, if you still want to, make sure you ensure that this is ok. Here’s some pointers to get started.
“But it’s on the internet”
Just because an image is on the internet, it doesn’t mean you can use it for your own purposes. I’m not a lawyer and can’t explain this in great detail, and specifics can change between countries. Basically, all content creators are protected by default. This means that if you create a piece of content (whether that is an image, video, audio file or text) then even if you are sharing it publicly, you retain the rights. It’s not ok for others to simply decide they want to reuse it and do so without your explicit permission.
What if you do want to allow others to legally use your content and not have to approach you directly each time? Creative Commons was one of the earliest answers to this, formed in America in 2001, and continues to grow. It essentially offers an alternative to the default copyright thus some have called it “copyleft”. The ideal is to create a worldwide, easily understood way to demonstrate whether you are able to reuse content on the internet. There are a number of licences, which correspond to the content creators wishes e.g. that content can be reused but must include attribution to the original creator, or that it can be used for personal but not commercial purposes. The easiest to understand and what I use most often is their CC0 licence, meaning if something is shared under this, then yes, anyone can simply reuse. You can read more here: https://creativecommons.org
This adds both a new level of protection but also complexity to sharing images online. GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation, and though is focussed on the protecting the rights of individual’s data, it has also increased awareness about individual’s rights in general. Like any legal situation, I don’t think anyone fully understands it without a law degree (and perhaps not even then!) but what I’ve already seen as a marketeer is that people will refer to this in terms of sharing content online, for example, if you do not have their explicit permission to share an image that they are in. My understanding from a photography perspective is that if you take an image yourself in a public area, then you can share online, though it is ethical to ask.
More information here: https://eugdpr.org
Individuals verses companies
Companies have legal departments to understand and deal with these issues. In general, companies should know about copyright infringement and not commit this. I’m writing this from the perspective of an individual or small business. It’s still good to keep in mind though that even if you feel like you are “just a blogger” you still have the rights to your own content, it’s not ok for anyone (including companies) to use it without your consent. The reality is that companies have budgets to pursue copyright infringement more strictly. Individuals may not have the knowledge or funding to involve a lawyer….however this doesn’t mean you cannot do anything.
But what if I credit them?
This is the grey area for me. Many people think that simply quoting/linking where they got the image is sufficient. There actually seem to be entire websites and social media accounts built around this theory. Their business model, as I understand it, is search the internet, gather bits of other people’s content, and present it back in either an adapted or collated form. Yes, they credit or link to the original creator – but it’s actually the “copied” piece of content that is then getting the clicks, likes and traction. The way the “copier” then makes money is by pushing this content out there to gain traffic, and then using this traffic as a base for advertising.
Crediting and reposting is sometimes done well – major media outlets use this technique, where they curate and collate content to share, which you may not have otherwise seen. Media should certainly have requested and gained permission, and perhaps paid for the privilege of using it. However many, many individuals and organisations have NOT asked permission and believe that simply crediting the creator is enough. In some cases, it may be – I believe in the US for example, there is a law allowing to share content for educational purposes, or to provide commentary. However even if it’s legal, it’s generally still not ethical.
What do to if someone steals your images
If you discover that someone has stolen your images (or text, or video, or audio), the first step can be to simply ask them to remove it. If this is not successful, then most of the social media platforms should have some kind of reporting process for copyright infringement. If you wish, you can also take this to a legal representative. This of course involves fees so many individual and small businesses do not go down this route, however it is important to know that it is an option.
My own experiences
I’ve been blogging and sharing content online for a decade. So far, I’ve only had a few situations where I have found others stealing my content. Last night I was at an event and opened Instagram to show someone my Dutch Australian account. Dutch Australian is a community that I’ve been building online for 8 years. Not that it matters (as copyright covers both personal and corporate creations) but this is not a commercial enterprise. It’s taken many, many hours to create images, logo and I pay for my own hosting. I saw my logo, clicked on it – and it opened someone else’s account! Someone had stolen my image (most likely from my Twitter account) to create their own account with a similar focus. I have asked them to remove, with no response. I am now reporting this to Instagram.
What should I do if I see this happening?
If you come across a situation where you see someone using an image, logo, text, video that you know does not belong to them, you may like to alert either the original creator or report the “copier” to the social media channel. I’ve also seen others commenting below social media posts that they know it’s not their content. This may have an impact, or may not. In some cases the reposter/copier is simply unaware. They may also have permission, but in this case usually include the text “reposted with permission”. In others, they have stolen it deliberately. At the very least, if at least one, or many more people call them out on this, they are hopefully less likely to do it in the future.
So how should I share something I like?
If you like an image or piece of content on a particular social media channel, then use the official methods of sharing this, such as the “share” button on Facebook. This means that the credit remains with the original content creator.
Other tips for content creators
It’s a sad fact that copyright infringement is likely to continue. Here’s some additional tips:
Google reverse image search
This tool assists you in finding if your images have been used elsewhere on the internet: https://images.google.com
Watermark your content
If you create content, add in a watermark or link to your website, or include your name. You can use free tools such as www.canva.com
Here’s some additional articles for further reading:
Have you experienced your content being stolen? How did you deal with it? Do you have anything to add to this article? Please comment below.