The word is out, images get more attention on social media networks than text. The problem is, the competition is now fierce among social media users for attention. With so many pictures, companies are now striving to meet higher and higher standards. It’s more of a challenge to create unique and engaging content that draws attention.
The best thing to do is to create completely custom content. The drawback to this is that it costs money and is time-consuming. This leads you to your next option.
You’ll head online and start searching Google for options. This will lead you to Google Images, paid image websites, or free use image libraries. But this could lead you to fall into a trap of violating copyright laws.
So what do you do? How can you protect yourself and your business when securing social media content?
What Are Copyrights?
Copyrighting is the legal mechanism that protects your original creation. It applies to several categories of original works.
- Digital art
- Website design
- Original writings
The internet is a global thing, which means that you could easily violate copyright laws from other countries. There are 177 countries that have copyright laws. They’re members of something called the Berne Convention that gives them a standardized set of protections.
But don’t worry about getting bogged down in the details of law copyright infringement. There is one basic principle that you can follow. You need to get permission before you use someone else’s original work.
If it’s not yours, find out who created it and ask for permission to use it.
What About Fair Use Images?
There are certain works that do not fall under the protection of copyright law. This means you can use them without having to ask for permission. These are typically things that would be used as a resource or reference.
- News reports
- Reference materials
These works are viewed as something that’s beneficial to society. Because of this, it makes more sense to allow their use without permission.
Is Something Fair Use?
There are four questions you need to answer when determining if it’s fair use.
- Is the piece for educational, non-profit, or commercial use?
- Is the work fact-based or highly creative?
- How much of it has been reproduced?
- How does using the work affect the original work’s potential market value?
If the image is for non-profit or educational use, then your image falls under fair use. If you profit in some way from using the image, then it doesn’t.
If the image is fact-based, then it’s more likely to be fair use. Highly creative pieces are more likely to be copyright protected.
The more an image is used and reproduced, the more likely it’s fair use. This widespread usage reduces the creator’s ability to maintain control.
If your use of the image doesn’t affect the original work’s market value, then it’s fair use. However, if you “borrow” a famous photographer’s images, then you could reduce their value, and this violates their copyrights.
When Does Creative Commons Apply?
This is a version of licensing that gives people the right to use a work for certain purposes. It doesn’t give people free rein to do what they like. If you use one of these images, you need to understand what the specific rights are for the image you plan to use.
- Attribution Noncommercial-No Derivative Works (CC BY-NC-ND): Someone can use a work, but they can’t modify it, and they can’t make money through their use of it.
- Attribution No Derivative Works (CC BY-ND): A work can’t be modified, but it can be used for commercial purposes.
- Attribution Noncommercial (CC BY-NC): Works may be altered, but they can’t be used commercially.
- Attribution (CC BY): Alterations and commercial use are okay.
- Attribution Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA): Works may be altered—but with specified limitations. Not to be used in sales contexts.
- Attribution Share Alike (CC BY-SA): Work can be altered within limitations and used commercially.
- Public domain: If a creator has relinquished all rights, or the copyright has expired, the work enters the public domain. In Creative Commons, this is often listed as CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0).
Any license that has “attribution” in the name requires you to give the owner credit. This means that if you plan to post an image on social media or your blog, you need to give the owner credit on each platform where you use the image.
Can You Use That Image?
If you plan to use an image on your social media, the safest thing you can do is use images that aren’t copyrighted. Public domain images are the most flexible because there are no restrictions on how you use them.
You could also use your own images. As the owner of the image you can do what you want with it. Using your own visual content ensures that no one else on the social media platforms you are using will have your content.
Sharing Within the Platform
Legally, you’re safe sharing someone else’s post that includes their original images. BUT, common social media etiquette would say that you need to check with the account that originally posted the image. While most people will say yes, you need to check that they’re ok with a brand sharing their post.
If you plan to repost someone’s photo from social media on your brand account, then you must ask permission. Since there’s no built-in repost feature, this isn’t a standard expected action. Message the owner of the picture and ask before you repost user-generated content.
You can re-share Instagram posts that are shared by your followers. You can do this on other social media networks, such as retweets on Twitter. LinkedIn also makes it easy to share posts by the people you are connected with. This social media strategy is a good one because it allows you to engage with your target audience, utilize hashtags, and reduce your marketers’ workload.
How to Find Free Images
There are a few ways you can find free images online to use.
Google Image Search
This is the easiest place to start because it will include image results from some of the later image resources I mention. To use Google’s image searching platform effectively, you need to start by going to the advanced search options. Then fill out the parameters for your search.
These include things like your keyword, pixels, and size. Be sure to select what kind of rights you want to be attached to the image. Then always check the image’s location to confirm the license before you use it.
Free Stock Photo Sites
There are several websites that offer people images to use for free. You’ll need to check the website to understand the different licenses the website offers. Some only have limited licenses, while others offer several different types.
Creative Commons Search
This is another database of images that you can search through. When using it, you’ll want to indicate that you intend to use the image for commercial use. It also has a unique search feature that lets you indicate whether you plan to modify the image or not.
Getty Images and Shutterstock
These are the largest photo resources on the internet. They have well over 200 million images archived. When you search you’ll see three different licensing options to narrow down your search. If you’re ready to invest in your digital marketing, then you’ll want to purchase your images from one of these resources. This makes it even more unlikely that someone will be using the same exact image in their social media feed.
- Royalty free (RF)
- Rights ready (RR)
- Rights managed (RM)
The best license to use is the royalty-free one. This will give you the greatest freedom in your use. There’s no limit on where, when, or how many times you use an image.
One thing to note, these images aren’t free to use. But once you make the initial payment, you’re free to use them.
Get Help Sourcing Your Images for Social Media posts
All of this can be a bit confusing. I’m happy to help my clients by sourcing high-quality safe to use social media images for their content marketing, blog articles, infographics, and website. I make sure that not only are they safe to use, but they’re worth using.
Let me help you find the best pictures for your social media marketing and online content.