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Updated Oct 23, 2023

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement in the Age of Social Media

Understand intellectual property laws when promoting your business on social media.

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Matt D'Angelo, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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Social media is an environment rich with opportunities for small businesses to connect with users, share content and convert customers. However, as the internet and social media have evolved, hard rules on content ownership and copyrights have taken a back seat to progress.

Copyright can be a tricky minefield to navigate, but paying attention to it is critical to avoid public backlash and legal consequences. We’ll share advice on avoiding infringing on intellectual property when promoting your business on social media.

What constitutes infringement

Ryan Vacca, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a member of the school’s Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, said copyright law’s goal is to protect original creative expression – and images fall under this protection.

“For most pieces of creative work, it easily satisfies the minimally creative standard if – assuming they didn’t rip it off from somebody else – the original creator is going to have some copyright protection in that image,” Vacca explained.

Typical ways businesses may unwittingly infringe on copyright law include the following: 

  • Downloading and posting images from the internet: If you download an image and post it on your website, blog post or social media, you’re likely committing copyright infringement. Your content strategy can’t include copying images or user-generated content without the creator’s permission. This can constitute infringement, even if you link to their website or the original post. In fact, linking to the source and giving attribution often notifies them that their work has been copied. 
  • Taking images from another company: In addition to directly downloading and posting someone’s work, copyright infringement can occur when you take an image from another company, such as an image-hosting business like Getty. Some small business owners think such a large company won’t concern itself with a minor offense, but this can be a reckless assumption. Getty has been known to send bills to sites without Getty subscriptions that feature its images.

Be vigilant with the content you use on social media

The best way to protect your business from copyright infringement litigation is by asking permission from original content creators before using their work, using free-to-use images online and creating your own content. 

Copyright infringement and liability can be murky territory. Visit the U.S. Copyright Office online to learn more about intellectual property infringement and protect your business from unintentional violations. Despite the ease of copying and pasting what seems to be freely available content on the internet, copyright infringement is a form of theft. 

Isaiah Atkins contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Editor’s Note: This is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, we recommend you contact a lawyer directly.

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Matt D'Angelo, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Matt D'Angelo has spent several years reviewing business software products for small businesses, such as GPS fleet management systems. He has also spent significant time evaluating financing solutions, including business loan providers. He has a firm grasp of the business lifecycle and uses his years of research to give business owners actionable insights. With a journalism degree from James Madison University, D'Angelo specializes in distilling complex business topics into easy-to-read guides filled with expertise and practical applications. In addition, D'Angelo has profiled notable small businesses and the people behind them.
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