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THAMES VALLEY LAW FIRM WARNS OF COPYRIGHT RISKS OF SHARING PHOTOS ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Jill Bainbridge

Businesses and individuals need to be aware of the potential copyright risks of sharing pictures through social media, warns leading law firm Blake Morgan.

With World Photography Day taking place on Saturday (August 19), copyright specialists at the firm are urging companies to take a moment to consider procedures for sharing content and pictures.

They have produced a checklist to refer to when sharing photography.

World Photography Day is the world’s biggest celebration of imagery and thousands of people are expected to share pictures online.

But sharing a photograph without the creator’s permission can, in some instances, amount to copyright infringement, warns Jill Bainbridge, a Partner at Blake Morgan who heads the firm’s Intellectual Property team,

Copyright breaches run the risk of civil liability for damages and injunctive relief and potential criminal liability.

Jill said: “With new social media platforms and photo sharing apps becoming more and more popular the risk of copyright infringement through sharing of photography is more present than ever.

“When so many options are available, allowing you to share someone’s photo at the click of a button, it is easy to forget about the possible legal implications of what you do on social media.

“In particular many companies are now using social media platforms to promote their brands.

“Sharing a celebrity’s photo of them using your product or retweeting a photo of a customer in your restaurant may be a fantastic way to build your company profile, but it may also amount to copyright infringement.”

Photographer looking at a photo on the preview screen of a digital camera.

To help avoid any sticky situations in relation to copyright infringement, Jill and her team have created a list of some points to consider when sharing or posting photos online:

  1. Is it your photo – specifically did you take the photo yourself?

If the answer to this question is yes, then you do not have to consider any risk of copyright infringement when posting your photo. Copyright is a legal protection that automatically arises as soon as original content is created (for example when a photo is taken) and the rights under that copyright protection to use or sell the photograph belongs to the creator – in this case, you. 

  1. If you didn’t take the photo, has the copyright in the photo been assigned to you or do you have a license from the copyright owner to use it?

The fact that a photograph has been posted on the internet does not mean that it is freely available for you to use. The photographer who originally took that photo is likely to still own the copyright over the photo and as a result use of that photo could amount to copyright infringement. An exception to this is if you have been assigned the copyright from the photographer or granted a license to use it.

  1. If you don’t own the photo or have a license to use it, can you obtain a license to use or share the photo?

If in doubt about whether you can use a particular photo the safest thing to do is to contact the photographer directly and ask whether they are willing to grant you a license to use the photo. If the photographer will grant you a license, make sure you get the correct license for the type of use you intend for the photo and then make sure you stick within those agreed terms when using the photograph. In addition to individual licenses from photographers, there a number of websites online that allow you to purchase different types of licenses to legally use the photos provided on that website.

  1. Is the photo on social media?

Once a photo is shared on a social media platform the terms and conditions of that platform are likely to have an effect on the copyright protection of the photo. The extent of the effect on the copyright of the photo is dependent on the particular platform, for example:

  • Twitter – Twitter’s Terms of Service state that the original copyright owner retains those rights, however by posting it on Twitter you grant Twitter a “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy reproduce, process, adapt modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods..”
  • Facebook – Facebook’s Terms of Service state “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition… For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it...”
  • Instagram – Instagram’s Terms of Service similarly state that Instagram does not claim ownership of any content posted on Instagram, however it does state that “you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service”

Jill added: “Just because a photo is posted on social media that certainly does not mean that no copyright exists in the photo.

“Social media can be a great way to promote your business and a fun way to share content with others. But remember, intellectual property rights exist in the online world just as they do in the real world.

“So always take a moment to consider these tips before sharing other’s photos!”

World Photography Day celebrates August 19, 1839, when the French government bought the patent for the daguerreotype and released it “free to the world”.

The daguerreotype, invented in 1837, was the first practical photographic process.

For more information on Blake Morgan’s Intellectual Property team, visit www.blakemorgan.co.uk/what-we-do/intellectual-property/

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