It is becoming more and more common for businesses to have social media accounts. 

But, did you know that the content you post could potentially open your business up to a copyright infringement lawsuit?

It is becoming increasingly common and expected for people and businesses to have at least one social media account (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.).  On those platforms, it is easy to post photos, videos, and other content with the click of a button. That instant sharing of content can be a great benefit to individuals that are trying to promote their business. However, it is important to remember that not everything you see on the internet is free to use.

For example, let’s say you own a camping supplies store, and you see a picture on the internet of a beautiful landscape. You may think “that would be perfect to put on my social media account.” But, using that photo without permission potentially opens you up to a lawsuit which could cost more than the business you obtain from using that photo. It is important to remember that copyright laws still apply, even in the world of social media.

The owner of the copyright in a particular image, video, or other content is the “author” (the creator of the work:  i.e. the photographer, videographer, writer, etc.). To receive that copyright protection, the author does not need to have gone through any formal registration process and they do not have to have the © logo displayed on their image. Simply having created the image or content, the “author” owns the right to (among other things):[1]

  1. Copy or reproduce the work;
  2. Use the work to create other works;
  3. Distribute or display the work to the public;

What that means is that only the author of the work has the right to display the work to the public by posting it on social media. Just because the original author has posted it on the internet does not diminish their rights in the work and it does not now make it available for others to use.

When using a photo, video, or other content that you find on the internet it is important to know where it came from. There are some photos that may have entered the public domain because of how long they have been in existence, and are therefore available for free use. There are also other instances where the author(s) have agreed to allow the work to be used by anyone who would like, without asking permission. But, unless you find specific information expressly giving permission to use the photo, it is best to ask permission of the author before using it.

In some cases, there may be a “fair use” defense which could potentially protect you against infringement when you use someone else’s work. That defense, however, is not typically available if the use of the image is commercial in nature. In other words, if you are using a photo without permission to promote your business or product, you are more likely to be liable for copyright infringement than if an individual puts the same photo on their personal page. That is not to say that and individual would not have potential liability, since there are other requirements for the fair use defense to apply. It simply means that businesses are less likely to be able to use the fair use defense. 

If you are considering using a photo or other content you found on the internet on your social media page, it is important to seek the permission of the person or entity that created the content you wish to use. If you have questions about whether a particular photo, video, etc. is protected by copyright or if you feel that someone is using your copyrighted work, contact the trial attorneys at Goosmann Law Firm, PLC! Visit our Omaha law firm, Sioux City law firm, or Sioux Falls law firm today! For more tips, trials, and reviews visit our Trial Law Review Blog!

[1] See 17 U.S.C. § 102


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