Copyright Laws and Social Media

Copyright Laws and Social Media

I’ve had to explain a lot of different principles to my clients; what a hashtag is, that tweeting and tweaking are very different things, and the differences between a private message and writing on someone’s wall. Typically, after the explanation, the client understands the terminology or the reasoning behind why I do what I do. However, there is one thing that I consider the most difficult principle to get across to my clients, and that is what copyright laws and infringement entail and why, no matter what they say, I can’t use just any photo in their content.

Over the years, I’ve been sent, literally, hundreds of photos that clients want me to include in their newsletters, email blasts, and social media content. I have been able to use about five of those photos. Five, out of hundreds. I’ve spent countless hours working with clients to maintain their social media channels’ professionalism, while still presenting interesting and valuable content.

With my clients that I’ve maintained, I stress the importance of addressing the human element associated with social media. For this reason, I ask many of my clients for personal photos or candid shots of the employees. For the most part, I get what I want from them and with the exception of the occasional professional shot that I have to turn down, I’m supplied well.

Stop That Theif!

However, it is when I ask if my clients have any other photos that they’d like me to use that I have to go into a deep explanation about copyright laws and what is and isn’t legal. I had an interior decorator as a client at one point, and she was constantly trying to be helpful in sending me photos to use for her content. It wasn’t until I noticed a watermark on one of the photos that I thought to ask her where she had obtained them. She replied simply, “from the internet.”

This started a chain of emails that lasted for three days and totaled twenty-six responses back and forth, and in the end, I’m pretty sure she was still confused. I had to explain that I couldn’t use photos of a company’s products that were pulled from their website for purposes of advertising for her business without giving them appropriate credit. She wanted to use the photo to depict her style of decorating but didn’t want to draw attention back to another designer’s site.

It took months for me to get through to her that this type of behavior was essentially theft before she got it. She asked where I would find the appropriate photos necessary to pad her content without doing it this way. I asked her to send me actual photos she’d taken from her jobs; before and after shots, pleased customers, and special pieces she’d added to make the room pop. She then asked why I could use shots of the furniture she’d wanted to use previously, without giving credit, which sparked another arm to the whole argument on copyright laws and infringement.

The Big Difference

I had to explain to her how the two situations were very different. Taking your own personal photo of an interior designer’s wallpaper, lamp, or sofa and using it on your website or in content, is not the same as pulling a photo of the aforementioned item from their website and using their photo. Copyright laws come into play when you’re using someone else’s intellectual property and passing it off as your own. When you take a photo of a room that was designed, personally, by you, that is your intellectual property, and therefore perfectly legal for your use.

When dealing with outsourced social media, there are some pitfalls that need to be avoided and copyright infringement is one of these. One client with whom I parted ways was actually sued by a company for using one of their photos in his content, and ended up having to pay them over a thousand dollars to settle. There are many different sites on the internet from which we obtain photos that are perfectly legal to use, but there is no match for the client’s own personal photograph. Allowing them to photograph their work brings a different level of personalization to the photo, and therefore allows your content for them to reach a little bit deeper, without breaking any laws.  For a crash course on intellectual property and copyright law, check out the video below:

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