Brands love sharing the content their audiences have created because it’s more effective and engaging than traditional advertising. Some even dedicate a separate page or account to UGC. While it can be exciting to share what your consumers have posted about your brand, it’s important to understand the legalities of repurposing someone else’s content (because nothing kills the buzz of a fun campaign like a lawsuit). We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about photo copyright.
To Make a Long Story Short, Users Own Their Photos
Even if your product is in it. Even if they tag you in it or use your hashtag. Social media posts are often considered creative compositions, which are protected by copyright. Creative compositions include both text and photographs—which means tweets and Facebook posts are protected too. They are always owned by the person who created them, except in very specific situations we will touch on later.
Crediting the Creator Isn’t Enough
Just because you added a link to the original post or you tagged the user in your new post, doesn’t mean you have completely avoided copyright. Sure, you gave them credit for their work, but they still have no idea you’re using their image. Using copyrighted material without the creator's consent is illegal—and they have the right to ask you to take it down.
Ask for Permission
Your mom was right, asking never hurts. Some users may charge a fee for using their photographs. Others might just be delighted that a company they love wants to share something they created. In either circumstance, it will save you a lot of trouble if you simply ask before you post.
Shoot them a DM, comment or email and let them know you love their content and want to share it with your followers. Including a link to their photo in your message will ensure that they know exactly which photograph you’re referring to. Be sure to approach them with excitement and positivity about their photo: “We love this and we know our followers will too! Would it be alright if we shared it on our page?”
In circumstances where the user asks for compensation for the use of their photo, negotiations about whether or not you’d like to purchase their photo is up to you—but you can’t use it unless an agreement is reached. If you’re willing to pay up, be sure to allot money in your marketing budget for these situations.
Pro Tip: Always screenshot the conversation when you receive permission to post a photo, just in case you need to prove you got the green light from the creator to use it.
A Few Exceptions to the Rule
There are a few instances where you don’t need the original creator’s consent.
- If the creator has been classified as Work for Hire, meaning that you have a contract with them stating that they are producing content for you in exchange for compensation. This includes the work you do with influencers. If you have paid them or given them a free product, as long as it’s stated that your brand owns any content produced during the partnership, there’s nothing to worry about.
- If the content was created as part of a contest or similar event where those entering agree to terms and conditions stating anything they submit to you will be property of your brand.
You can sometimes use photos without permission if it falls under the fair use category, but this is very rare. If you aren’t using the photo for criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research, fair use doesn’t apply to you.
If you are looking for more ways to connect with your audience and get more user-generated content for your brand, you’ll want to consider hiring a brand ambassador. Contact Statusphere to learn more about how micro-influencers can benefit your brand.
Disclaimer: We're influencer marketing specialists, not lawyers! This content is not legal advice and you should definitely consult a legal professional based on your needs and questions. We do not make any guarantees as to accuracy or completeness of this information and take no liability or legal obligations for your use of this information.