You are going through your Instagram feed and you see something you wish to share, for example, a funny meme. You decided to copy the link and use a repost application to place it on your account. But the question arises, can you legally do this?
During a festival in Uptown, Charlotte, I posed an image to my stories on Facebook. This image only showed that I was at the festival, enjoying myself. No one was in the image, just a flag and a beautiful city.
The morning afterwards, I saw my image on someone else’s Facebook feed and the person did not credit me as the image creator. Instead, the person used my image to make it appear as if he attended the festival. When this came to my attention, I was irate! It wasn’t that good of an image, but someone stole it in an attempt to claim it as their own. When I brought it to their attention that I owned the copyright to the image, the person became contentious, and began arguing with incorrect and/or misinformed information on copyright laws. I issued a cease and desists, which he failed to acknowledge. Then I reported his account to Facebook and blocked him from viewing any more of my materials. In theory, I could potentially take legal action, but as a realist, I realize that would be a waste of time.
According to the United States’ Copyright Office, “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” To paraphrase, if you create the image, you own the copyright. You only need to register your copyright if you desire to make it public record that you own the copyright, or you want to file a lawsuit for infringement.
Giving Credit and Getting Permission
Referring to the Instagram scenario, while writing the caption, you find the credit tag to be a nuisance; therefore, you delete it. Doing so misleads your readers to believe you are the creator of this image. The majority of repost applications for Instagram automatically tag the creator of the image either in the caption or the image itself. Still, many are able to bypass this by deleting the tag, or by purchasing a paid version of the app that allows one to repost without giving credit.
In my experience, the person failed to credit me as the creator. In fact, he made it appear that he was the one who took the image as if he was at the festival.
Taking an image and not giving credit is an asshole thing to do, especially if you know the creator personally. It is also illegal. First off, you need permission from the creator to post their material. As stated by HG Legal Recourses, “Although unlikely, if a person posts content that is copyrighted by someone else without the owner’s permission, the owner of the content can theoretically sue for copyright infringement.” Law Soup suggests that if you cannot get permission from the creator, then provide credit on who made the image and link to their website or social media page. Keep in mind that this only applies for personal use. If you are using the image for commercial purposes, then no matter what, you must receive permission from the creator.
If I Edit the Image, it is My Own, Right?
To answer this shortly, no; however, a general rule of thumb is if the image is still recognizable from the original, then it is illegal. In my experience as mentioned above, the person cropped the image. Even though the image was cropped, it was identical to the image I shot. Cropping an image does not make it your own.
I’ve heard the statement, ‘If 30% of the image is changed, then it is not an infringement.’ The Graphic Artist Guild debunks this concept, “There is no formula for calculating infringement.” If an artist can still determine the image was produced by them, then they can argue it is copyright infringement.
What About Memes?
This one is a little tricky. Memes can fall under satire, which is protected by fair use; however, they cannot be used for advertisement, commercial, or selling the meme itself.
If I Want the Image on my Blog, it is Editorial; Therefore, Okay, Right?
As a former journalist, the answer is no. News sources also need to pay for the image or, even better, use their own. This is why many stock image companies include the ability to buy images for editorial use. Also, if you are using your blog to sell a product, then it can be argued that the blog has a commercial purpose.
As an Artist, What Could I do to Prevent People Stealing my Work?
My first advice would be to state somewhere on your website or social media page that the content is copyrighted. I would also suggest a webpage that states how one can use your materials and provide a contact page, email address, or phone number so if someone wants to obtain permission, they can get in contact with you. For a reference, here is my webpage on how my material can be used.
Okay, So Someone Use My Work. What Can I Do?
Do not bug your lawyers just yet. The first step would be to contact the person directly and ask them to cease and desists. In most cases, the person does not realize what they are doing is wrong. If they fail to take it down, then contact the webhost or report the image through the social media platform. The webhost or social media provider as the ability to take down the content or the whole site together. If you have troubles with the webhost or social media provider, then the third step would be to file a DMCA complaint. This will get the stolen content removed from search engines. If the content was used for commercial or advertising purposes, contact the business and ask them to take it down. If they refuse to do so, then it is time to make a phone call to your lawyer.
While I took a few law classes at a University, I am not a legal expert. The information above was obtained via research. This only serves to provide general knowledge and not for legal guidance. If you wish to obtain information on copyright laws for the objective to use it in court, please contact a lawyer. Below are sources for the information that was not previously linked to in the blog.