Copyright Education

Photo Copyright on Social Media -  myth or reality?

Are photos uploaded to social media platforms protected by Copyright? What may be considered a copyright infringement on social media? In this article, you will find answers to these and many other questions about the topic.

Social media has become a necessary promotional instrument for photographers and visual artists. Platforms like Instagram or Facebook can lay the foundation for your business, increase visibility, and expose your work to a global audience. At the same time, however, image theft is rampant on such platforms. That is why knowing your rights as an image holder and how the copyright works on social media are handy.

1. What is Social Media Copyright?

What is Copyright in social media? Are images on social media protected by Copyright? These are common questions that creatives pose to themselves. Social media copyright is just photo copyright - there is no legal distinction between these two. In other words, even though the world of social media is about free access, that doesn't mean you can use it freely, and yes, images on social media are Copyright protected too.

Copyright in an image is automatically assigned to the author after the visual work has been created. The copyright owner does not have to register the photo to "officially" get Copyright. The image Copyright holder owns a so-called bundle of rights that allows him to display, sell and distribute the work, reproduce it and create derivative works. That means that the image and the copyright owner can also decide on the possible use of their photos, and any action - intentional or not - that violates this is considered copyright infringement.


2. Do you remain the copyright owner of your work when you upload it to a social media platform?

It's a common misconception that by uploading your work to social media, you give up your Copyright and are powerless to stop anyone from using it without permission - but that's not the case. According to the terms and conditions of almost all social media sites, original users retain Copyright to their work.

When you sign up with a social media site, you must agree to the terms of service. In most cases, you grant the website a license to use the content you post. You also confirm that you own the Copyright to the content you post. That solely means that you allow the platform to show your photo and make it work as it needs to, but this agreement never overrides copyright laws and your ownership.

So, it does not mean that you assign Copyright, nor that you cannot take action against infringement of any work you post on the platform. When you agree to a social media platform’s term of use, it applies only to you and the provider and no one else - none of the other users are allowed to take your images and use them for any purposes without your permission.


3. What are the Copyright policies of major social media platforms?

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram & Co. allow the online posting of copyrighted material. The social media website does not own the work posted on its site. The Copyright remains with the owner. However, by agreeing to publish works on the website, you are signing an agreement that grants the website a license to use the work for various purposes, such as showing, editing, or copying. In these cases, the license is given for free.

  • Facebook and Copyright
    Facebook´s Terms of Use state that you (the Facebook user) own the intellectual property rights (including Copyright or trademark) in the content you create and share on Facebook and other Facebook products. You can share your content with other people at any time. In return, Facebook says, you must agree to transfer the company a license to use the content. More precisely, grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, perform, copy, publicly display, and create derivative works of your content.
    When you leave Facebook, all content will be deleted.

  • Twitter and Copyright
    Twitter's Terms of Service state, "Content is the sole responsibility of the person who originated the Content," but reserves the right to remove content that violates the user agreement. Twitter says that if you believe your content has been copied in a way that "constitutes copyright infringement," you can file a report at

  • Pinterest and Copyright
    Pinterest is a social media website where its members are allowed to share photos from their websites and other places. Pinterest's Terms of Service grant users a "limited non-exclusive, non-transferable, and revocable license" to use its services. Pinterest's terms of use state that you "retain all rights to and are solely responsible for the content you publish." But, by signing up for Pinterest and accepting their terms of service, you agree to grant Pinterest "a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license" for using your content. Pinterest also reserves the right to "remove or modify" your content or "change the way it's used in Pinterest for any reason." That means that Pinterest can use your content on its site because you have agreed to grant them a license to use it as described in this agreement, without payment.


4. What is considered to be a Copyright infringement on social media?

Not surprisingly, anything that can generally be considered copyright infringement - using or distributing a work without the owner's permission - is likely to be copyright infringement on social media as well. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & Co. allow us to publish almost any content because they cannot screen posts for copyrighted material. That opens up a whole new world of copyright infringement in the digital space.

If someone shares any image on a public account on social media, it does not make it public domain. The Copyright still belongs to the person. If you haven't given explicit permission for your material to be used by another party, it is probably a case of copyright infringement.

However, since social media is about sharing, particular exceptions allow other users to display your copyrighted images.:

  • Sharing photos 

It's usually okay to share images within a platform using native sharing tools. Retweets, reshares, repins, or content shared in an Instagram story will credit the creator automatically.

Also, these actions are only possible if the person who published the content has enabled the appropriate account permissions, which fall under the platforms' terms and conditions. These types of sharing are built into social media platforms. Anything that requires copying or downloading an image is not native resharing.

  • Reposting images in the feed. 

For example, many brands repost user-generated content. That is indeed a great marketing strategy, but unless there is a built-in feature that allows native republishing, you need to ask permission. That includes sharing content in your Instagram feed, for example. Mentioning the photographer´s name is also essential, but it's not enough.

But keep in mind, it looks different with:

  • Embedding photos on an external website 

For example, Instagram states explicitly, "If you own a copyright, you have the right to grant permission to use your copyrighted work and the right to prevent others from using your copyrighted work without permission." The terms of use also state, "You may not do anything that infringes on the rights of others, including intellectual property rights (e.g., copyright infringement, trademark infringement, counterfeit or pirated goods)."

That means embedding an Instagram post on an external website without the copyright holder's permission is copyright infringement, as only the copyright holder can decide how to use their images.

Please note: this information is not a part of legal advice, presents only a general overview of regulations, and cannot be applied to every single case. Please do your own research or consult a lawyer concerning your specific case.


5. How to prevent image theft on social media?

When your intellectual property is posted on social media, it may be rightfully yours, however it can still be misused for copyright infringement by scammers or people who simply don't know any better.

To protect your content as much as possible, include your name or some other form of identification on content like professional photos and slide presentations. This step will hopefully deter recipients of your intellectual property and third parties from infringing on your rights.

If you use a social media site like Facebook or Pinterest and are concerned about others using your photos, you should first read the site's terms of service precisely. The terms and conditions of most social media sites contain language stating that by posting pictures on the website, you are essentially granting the site's host permission or a license to use the content you post or publish. However, these terms do not mean that you are granting permission to website users to use or reproduce your photos or content.

It is also advisable to regularly check where your photos are used on the Internet. Some image authors actively protect their Copyright by using reverse image searches. Some use services that monitor the internet around the clock for the use of their photos. This way, one can easily find out if their images have been used online without permission.

We also recommend you our article 5 Effective Ways to prevent Copyright Infringements of your Photos to learn about other methods for preventing image theft online.


6. What if your Copyright has been infringed on social media?

If you become aware that another person is using your published photos without your consent, you may take the following measures:

  • Notify the person responsible for the unauthorized use.

To maximize your chances of a successful case, document evidence of the unauthorized use of your work on the social media platform. Collect links, take screenshots, and note the date and time.

Fair Licensing will guide you through the whole process. Try it for free now.

  • Report the violation to the social media website host, if the infringer refuses to remove the photos.
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have structured procedures for filing a complaint, which, if successful, can result in the infringer's post being removed. How do you submit a copyright takedown request on social media?

Since the DMCA protects content providers, such as social media platforms, from copyright infringement by their users, users can file a social media copyright infringement case on any of these platforms. That is often done through the platform's help center. After the case is reviewed and confirmed as a copyright infringement case, access to the content is usually blocked, but this depends on the platform.

Copyright complaint forms on social media platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest.

  • File a copyright infringement complaint and take legal action, If the unauthorized user still does not remove the photos

You can contact an attorney or use a takedown service, which allows you to send legally binding takedown notifications to any website worldwide to have your image removed. Learn from the following article about Copyright Tracking services that may help track and resolve your copyright infringement.

Have you discovered copyright infringement on your work, but don't know how to address the copyright infringer? The Fair Licensing team will be happy to help you tackle this problem and guide you through the whole process.

Do you find this article helpful? Share it with friends on social media.


Want to get more exclusive tips on how to protect your photo copyright directly to your inbox?


Similar posts


Get exclusive tips on how to protect your photo copyright straight to your inbox!