Images are extremely easy to copy, repost, and republish on the Internet and as photographers we have an inherent interest to not let that happen without our permission. We work hard to create our photographs, investing time and money into our projects. But with a few simple clicks or the help of apps, people can take images and do almost whatever they want with them without many technical restrictions.
We know copying images and calling them our own is wrong, but with social media, especially Instagram, images can show up almost anywhere on any account and it’s dead simple to do.
The culprit is reposting, the concept of copying an image from one account and posting it to another. Most accounts who predominantly repost images identify themselves as such and do not call claim to the images. They also normally credit the original photographer in various ways including tags and mentions in the comments. Many accounts will ask for permission to repost, or promote a hashtag that a photographer can use to show support to repost their images.
Instagram does not have a native way to repost images from other users. Apps exist to facilitate this process but is still the responsibility of the user to get permission and not break any rules.
Is this legal? Are you giving up copyright on your images when you post on social media? Is Instagram a lawless wasteland where anyone can post anything from anyone?
The Short of It
Posting, hashtagging, and sharing images on social media does not give up your copyright. It is still up to you who uses your image. You get to decide who reposts your image and who doesn’t.
The Long of It
When you create an image, you own the copyright. If you are headed into a legal battle, you will need to register the image with the government (depending on where you live on this planet). But for the most part, it is pretty easy to defend if you own an image on social media.
If an account reposts your image without your permission, you have the right to ask them to take it down. Instagram supports this with a copyright infringement form but honestly it is very clunky and is not built natively into the app like blocking and reporting a user. Instagram also suggests simply asking the account to take down your image as a way of resolving the issue with getting them involved.
But when should we enact our claim to copyright and when should we just let it go? Repost accounts are not the only ones who use other people’s images on Instagram. Brands, merchants, stores, and services all crowdsource user-generated content to post on their social media channels. Some ask for permission and some don’t. I can’t just upload a video to YouTube for my photography company using a popular song. I have to credit them and many times pay a fee. Why should photography be different?
Sometimes we want our images to be reposted by specific accounts of big brands with lots of followers in the hopes of gaining more followers ourselves. That social currency is enough of a tradeoff where we allow someone to use work without monetary compensation. That is very contradictory to the stock image market and editorial sites like Getty where people pay for use of images.
There is a dichotomy that exists between social media and traditional media. It’s one thing if our images show up on a brand's Instagram, but what if those images showed up in a brand's catalog? Or in their stores? Is social media a bubble where it’s OK to share content of others for free? That’s up to you.
Many people just want to be Instagram famous and that’s enough to let others use their work. Some people see reposts as a way of gaining recognition. But other times brands are simply trying to attract people to buy things and using your content to do so.
In the end, take everything in stride. Some accounts reposting your work is great, but everyone on the planet should not have rights to use your images. Choose your battles and protect your images, you worked hard to create them.
Do you let anyone repost your images? Do you require tags and mentions? How have you resolved disputes of copyright on Instagram?