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Can a Social Media Picture Take Your Business to Court?
By: Aprel Phelps Downey
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Social media outlets are quickly becoming our first source for breaking news. Event participants and bystanders capture those first few crucial moments with their smartphones. From there, status updates and tweets hit the Internet on Facebook and Twitter at a rapid pace. Images of the event begin flooding Instagram and Pinterest, and Flickr timelines alerting the world to the event at hand. The rest of the world soon follows suit, hitting "share" or "retweet" for these pictures without stopping to think about where they originally came from.
 
This frenzy of picture-sharing operates on the notion that once an image reaches the realm of social media its usage is fair game. In actuality, that Internet photo is still protected under traditional copyright laws. The rights to that picture remain with the original photographer regardless of how many social media channels that picture makes an appearance on. Likewise, that photographer must receive full credit, whether it was taken with a high-tech digital camera or the latest and greatest smartphone. Failure to do so could result in your business facing legal ramifications.
 
The Wall Street Journal found itself engaged in a legal battle after utilizing Daniel Morel’s Haiti earthquake picture without permission. They assumed copyright protection was irrelevant for pictures that were located on social media channels. We all know what happens when assumptions are made. They quickly reposted the picture in question without seeking permission or crediting the original photographer. That post resulted in a costly mistake.
 
Even when your business follows the proper legal channels in order to utilize a picture, make sure it’s used exactly as specified in the copyright permission agreement. Apple recently got itself into legal hot water for utilizing a privately owned picture for commercial use. This specific use had not been declared when the copyright permission was being sought.
 
A good rule of thumb for businesses to follow is to start seeking copyright permission the minute a picture of interest is viewed on a social media channel. Sites such as www.stockphotorights.com can serve as an invaluable resource when it comes to the rules and regulations of reposting a picture housed on social media. Be aware that locating the original photographer in order to obtain that copyright permission may require a bit of detective work. A picture that may catch the attention of your promotions department on Twitter more than likely was shared by a LinkedIn connection who found the original picture on Instagram. Locating the original photographer now just might keep your business out of the courtroom later.
 
Imagine for a moment another company swooping in and taking credit for a marketing promotion that took your creative team weeks to put together. Your business would be slightly irritated, to say the least. Let’s remember to always give credit where credit is due to ensure that everyone receives appreciation for their hard work and a job well done! 


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About the Author
Aprel Phelps Downey is a writing/marketing professional who holds more than seven years marketing experience, including all aspects of promotional and informational campaigns and website development.  To learn more about Aprel please visit her website at www.aprelphelpsdowney.com or follow her on twitter: @aphelpsdowney.
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