If I post to Instagram, Do I still own my Image? Your copyright questions answered!

The long and the short of it? Yes! Very much so! Today we will be delving into why this is and how this common misconception has landed a ton of people in hot water!

In the visually captivating realm of social media, Instagram stands out as a platform where millions share their creativity through images and photographs. As you post your cherished visuals on this popular platform, it’s essential to be aware of the intricacies surrounding Instagram’s copyright ownership. Understanding the fine print can empower you to protect your intellectual property and creative work from potential misuse. In this blog post, we delve into the nuances of Instagram’s copyright policies and explore why safeguarding your copyright is crucial in the digital age.

There have been SO many debates about this very topic! If you are wanting to know more about Pinterest Copyright Infringement, head to this post.

Want to know more about social media and copyright?

What does Instagram say about copyright?

Instagram, like many other social media platforms, has its own terms of service, which users must agree to when creating an account. Within these terms, Instagram states that users grant them a non-exclusive, fully paid, and royalty-free license to use, modify, display, and distribute their content worldwide. While users retain ownership of their original images, Instagram’s license essentially allows the platform to utilize your content for various purposes without requiring your explicit permission.

Instagram is very clear in its terms of service about what can and cannot be used on instagram; here is what they say;

How You Can’t Use Instagram. Providing a safe and open Service for a broad community requires that we all do our part.

  • You can’t impersonate others or provide inaccurate information.
    You don’t have to disclose your identity on Instagram, but you must provide us with accurate and up to date information (including registration information). Also, you may not impersonate someone you aren’t, and you can’t create an account for someone else unless you have their express permission.
  • Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share.

    As always, you own the content you post on Instagram. Remember to post authentic content, and don’t post anything you’ve copied or collected from the Internet that you don’t have the right to post. Learn more about intellectual property rights.

Permissions You Give to Us. As part of our agreement, you also give us permissions that we need to provide the Service.

  • 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, royalty-free, 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). 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. To learn more about how we use information, and how to control or delete your content, review the Data Policy and visit the Instagram Help Center.
  • If you believe someone is infringing your copyright, you can report it to us by filling out this form. You can also contact our designated agent. If you contact our designated agent, please be sure to include a complete copyright claim in your report.

Potential Risks and Misuse:

The broad license granted to Instagram raises concerns about potential misuse of your images. While the platform primarily uses content to promote its services and improve user experiences, there is a possibility of third-party entities exploiting your work without your knowledge or consent. For instance, your images could be used in advertisements or promotional materials without proper attribution, which might dilute your brand identity or even lead to reputational issues.

How do I report someone who has stolen my images?

How do I report someone who has stolen my images on Instagram? There should be a link on every image to “report”. You can report individual images and you can report a whole account

Reporting copyright infringements 

What do the professionals say about social media copyright?

As as an attorney helping brands, influencers, and agencies comply with advertising laws and resolve business disputes;  Robert Freund (Principal, Robert Freund Law, Advertising and business attorney located in Los Angeles)

Generally speaking, someone who creates an original work of authorship (like an image or a video) automatically creates and owns a copyright to that work at the time that the work is created. They can then license the rights to use that work so that others have permission to share or copy it. They can also choose to transfer the ownership of the rights entirely. Social media platforms typically receive some form of license over user-generated content and do not own the content as such.

Social media platforms differ in the kind of licenses that their users grant them when signing up, and those differences are usually found in each platform’s Terms of Service. Taking Instagram as an example, users who sign up grant Instagram a license to reproduce user-generated content uploaded to the platform, but the creator still owns the copyright to the content. That means “Instagram” may re-use that content, but it does not mean that “other users” may. So re-posting original content from another user may constitute copyright infringement with respect to that content, if the re-poster did not obtain permission from the original author.

Jacob Bartels , A Commercial and Intellectual Property Lawyer at Interface Legal, based in Melbourne, Australia talks us through his thoughts on this;

One of the keys here is that you are responsible for what you post/share, and so you need to ask yourself – did I create this work, does my use fall within an exception to copyright infringement, or do I need permission to use the work?

Generally speaking, if you are the original creator of a work, then you will own the copyright in that work. In the context of a photo, the photographer themselves will usually own the copyright in the work, and then have the exclusive right to use, sell, and licence the work, as well as to enforce their copyright as against an infringer.

Do I still own my pictures if I share them Social Media? (Instagram)

David Reischer, Esq. Attorney & CEO of LegalAdvice.com; talks us through some of the ins and outs of social media licences;

A social media site such as Facebook or Instagram does not own the work that a user posts on their platform; the copyright is still retained by the owner. However, a person when subscribing to a social media website must first agree to the ‘Terms of Service’ on social sites like Facebook and Instagram before posting any images. As such, the user agrees that when posting works on the social media site, that the social media website is permitted as a third party via a license to use the work.

And so, by uploading an image to a social media platform, while generally you would not forfeit your copyright, you are providing a licence to the social media platform to use your work.

Does stealing images actually happen in real life?

We if you are reading this article, chances are that this has happened to you, someone you know of or you are an artist who has had their copyright infringed. This exact scenario happened to Tracy Sestili, Head of Marketing at SparkPost talks about a personal experience with this; 

A few years ago I used to be a Social Media consultant. One day a woman sent me a direct message on my Facebook page and said that there was a company in Canada who might be using my face on their website without my permission. I went to their website, it was a Canadian home improvement website. I had never done business with them (or heard of them) but there on their homepage was my face under the name of Jennifer D. and there was a quote endorsing their company. I called them and asked for the owner. I was told they weren’t in but I could leave a message. I told the woman that my face was featured prominently on their website and that I had never authorized them to use my photo and they could either pay me $1000 to use my picture or they could take it down. I got a call back a few hours later where they left me a voicemail saying they had taken it down and apologized and blamed it on their web developer. I went back to my Facebook page and thanked the fan for letting me know and that’s when I learned that the Canadian company was being investigated for fraud.

What about “REPOST” and “SHARE” accounts?

As someone who also runs a reshare account, I am very careful to always ask for permission to make sure the account remains legal. I wrote a post about art in the Bullet Journal world ages ago and it covers a little more about this copyright topic specifically with art.

According to David Reischer, Esq. ; unless you have explicit permission this is a big NO NO

Nevertheless, when a person shares an image on a social media website that they do not own, having not first obtained permission from the owner, to use the image, then the user is in breach of the owners copyright. In the United States, if an owner has registered the image with the U.S. Copyright Office, then the owner is allowed to sue the person that posted the image on social media for copyright infringement.

There are many instances of copyright lawsuits when an owner has brought a lawsuit merely because a user has shared an image on a social media website without asking for permission. As such, the best strategy to protect a business is to always ask permission to use the work from the original creator. Businesses have more at risk by using copyrighted images without permission than a lone individual because businesses have deep enough pockets to make them worthwhile targets to be sued. Businesses are especially vulnerable targets for re-sharing or even re-tweeting images on social media platforms if they are financially capitalizing when sharing the copyrighted work.

Jacob Bartels , again talks us through some of the key points in requesting permission;

The best way to avoid infringing copyright is to obtain permission from the original creator of the work. Such permission should ideally be by way of a licence agreement, signed by both parties, whereby express consent is obtained from the copyright owner to use their work.

This is where the majority of issues occur, whereby in large part, the majority of social media users (individuals and businesses alike), often fail to obtain the required consent, and more so in the case of businesses, they fail to have the copyright in works/graphic designs etc. that they have had commissioned properly assigned to them. This can bring about significant exposure to liability for copyright infringement.

One recent example was where Tourism Tasmania, in or about 2016, encouraged photographers to post photos on Instagram with the hashtag, #discovertasmania. Tourism Tasmania then used those images as part of a digital billboard at Hobart Airport. In response to claims from those photographers that their permission had not been sought to use the images, Tourism Tasmania resolved to remove the display from the Hobart Airport and have also now updated their Terms of Use.

What does “bad” look like?

There are a number of reshare accounts that will post an image without credit. They will happily claim the image as their own, or hide the tag very far down in the caption, or even within the tags, and then claim that they have in fact credited the account. But remember, without permission, you cannot reshare images. There are tons of small accounts that will “steal” popular images to grow their following

How do you ask for permission to repost an image? What is the best way to do this?

This is unbelievably easy! Why more people do not do it blows my mind! A simple “Hi, Joe Blog here from @joblogblog and I would love to re-share this image to our account, do you mind?” should be all you need to get a reply. If you do not get a reply, do not repost.  If they ask you for payment, and you cannot afford the cost, do not report. They are asking for compensation because they have created that image, not you, so do not get nasty and shitty with someone asking to be compensated for their work.

What if I cannot find the original artist?

This is completely inexcusable! If someone cannot find the correct or original artist, then DO NOT POST THE IMAGE! Simple. A simple reverse image search can help you locate the image. So there really should not be any excuse as to why you cannot find an artist.

How can you protect Your Copyright on social media:

To safeguard your creative work and maintain control over how it is used, consider taking the following steps:

a. Watermarking Your Images: Adding a discreet watermark to your images can deter unauthorized use and serve as a visual reminder of your ownership.

b. Setting Your Account to Private: By making your account private, you have more control over who can access and share your content.

c. Reviewing Third-Party Apps: Be cautious when granting access to third-party applications that require access to your Instagram account. Ensure they have a trustworthy reputation and only access the necessary information.

d. Registering Your Copyright: In some jurisdictions, registering your copyright with relevant authorities can offer additional legal protection and recourse in case of copyright infringement.

Licensing and Attribution:

If you wish to share your work more widely but still maintain control over its usage, consider licensing your images under specific terms. Creative Commons licenses, for example, allow you to retain copyright while permitting others to use your work under certain conditions, such as providing proper attribution or using it for non-commercial purposes only.

Regular Monitoring:

Stay vigilant and monitor the use of your images on Instagram and other platforms. If you discover any unauthorized use, reach out to the responsible parties and ask them to remove the content promptly.

Where to next?

In the visually-driven world of Instagram, it’s crucial to understand the complexities of copyright ownership. While Instagram’s terms grant them a broad license to use your content, there are steps you can take to protect your creative work and maintain control over its usage. By watermarking your images, setting your account to private, and being cautious with third-party apps, you can mitigate the risks of misuse. Additionally, consider licensing your work with appropriate terms and regularly monitoring its use to ensure your artistic endeavors receive the respect they deserve. Safeguarding your copyright is not only an act of protection but also a statement of value for your creative contributions to the digital landscape.

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