“It’s just ‘borrowing’ an image off a simple Google Image search…that’s not an issue!”

“Images of celebrities are everywhere!  There is no reason that I can’t upload a few to draw attention to my Facebook wall.”

“Everyone else is simply copying and pasting images on their social sites…why can’t I?”

While advances in technology are great for making life easier and marketing a company, they also make it easier to blur ethical lines. Social media sites have made it far too easy to use unlicensed images for Internet marketing (especially social media marketing).

What content can I use online...legally?

It’s easy to understand why. Everything on the Internet ‘feels’ free.  Many people believe that if something is published online, it is public domain and can be copied and used by anyone. In reality, it is illegal to use images without permission from the copyright holder; some of the consequences are more serious than the average Internet user realizes.

Babble.com, a popular parenting site enraged parents by using photos of their children in its articles. While the company claims it to be an honest mistake, many parents were not convinced and threatened legal action. The site lost many of their faithful readers due to this indiscretion.

Facebook and Pinterest users should be aware that violating the terms and conditions of these sites may result in their account being shut down without warning. Look at your own social media profiles and assess the potential damage. A lawyer and photographer who runs DDK Portraits did just that; after carefully reading the “fine print” on Pinterest’s website, she decided it was best to take down her own account rather than face a potential lawsuit over copyright infringement.

Sharing images on social media is a great way to spread some laughter, great recipe ideas and market a business. Along with this, we have to remember that the Internet isn’t a virtual prepaid shopping spree for intellectual property. When images are posted online, the uploading users have the full responsibility of making sure they have the right to do so. Users also grant Facebook or Pinterest certain rights for uploaded images, further blurring the lines of intellectual property.

Don’t panic! If a person shares an image seen on Facebook or re-pins something from Pinterest, that person is not actually committing theft. The individual or business entity that originally posted or pinned the image will bear this burden.

The United States Copyright Law is very long, complex, and difficult for average Internet users to fully understand. An overview of the law is given here; however, the best way to avoid copyright infringement is to only upload images you know you have a right to distribute online.

Many do not consider this type of image sharing as copyright infringement or stealing. However, stealing someone’s work or images is the same thing as helping yourself to his car or laptop computer.  Just like material property, intellectual property belongs to its owner. Whether or not your business is concerned with ethics or morality, you should know that stealing in this way can result in costly and embarrassing legal actions taken against you and/or your company.

“Plagiarism Today” shared an article detailing five ways to get sued on Facebook.  Does your personal profile or company page have any content that falls into one of these five categories?

Our team here at TSS has taken the use of photos within our company seriously. While other companies have been lax in acknowledging copyrights, our policy requires proper licensing and assurance that we hold the rights to an image before posting it on behalf of our clients.

While many are tempted to use someone else’s work to enhance their own, we are determined to protect the rights of every rights holder. After all, what good is social media without the basic social etiquette that goes along with not stealing from your neighbor?


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