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A good image on social media can make or break a post. But regardless if you are a business, brand, or just someone who loves using social media to connect with friends and family, the images you use should be ones that you take yourself or have legitimately purchased from a website like Adobe Stock or Getty Images. All too often, images posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are used illegally, meaning that copyright has not been taken into consideration.

And just because you add a credit to the photo, it may not justify your actions. Many photographers and graphic designers create their work and license it for sale. Giving an image credit does not pay the bills of the people who put the time and effort to create the amazing image that you want to use in your post. It is always best to ask for permission before using an image that was taken or created by someone else.

If you do not obtain permission, not only could you be violating copyright, but you could also be breaching the terms and conditions that you agreed to when you signed up for some of the social platforms. Instagram is a good example; take a look at Instagram’s Terms of Use, under Rights, paragraph four:


“4. You represent and warrant that: (i) you own the Content posted by you on or through the Service or otherwise have the right to grant the rights and licenses set forth in these Terms of Use; (ii) the posting and use of your Content on or through the Service does not violate, misappropriate or infringe on the rights of any third party, including, without limitation, privacy rights, publicity rights, copyrights, trademark and/or other intellectual property rights; (iii) you agree to pay for all royalties, fees, and any other monies owed by reason of Content you post on or through the Service; and (iv) you have the legal right and capacity to enter into these Terms of Use in your jurisdiction.”


In layman’s terms, if you do not own it, you should not post it on Instagram. And Facebook’s terms and conditions clearly states that if you “repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate.”


But what about Fair Use? According to Stanford University, Fair Use falls into two categories:

  1. commentary and criticism
  2. parody

Point one means that you can share an image if you are going to provide commentary or a criticism of the work. Point two means using an image in a comical way, in essence, making “fun” of the original image. Fair Use does not cover, in any way, using an image to sell a product, promote a brand, or advertise on your Facebook page that you are having a family reunion.

Even if you purchase a stock image from a website, there are boundaries for its use. For example, with Adobe Stock images, you can purchase an image with one of four different licenses: Standard, Enhanced, Extended and Editorial. Each license differs not only in price, but also in how long, or how much, you can use the image. Just because an image has been purchased does not mean that you have the rights to use it indefinitely. And, in some cases, you may not be able to use the purchased image for what you intended. The Editorial license does not permit the image to be used in anything that would be considered promotional or commercial.


If you are thinking, I can’t afford to buy stock images or, if you are a small business, we can’t afford to hire a professional photographer. That’s OK! You don’t need an expensive camera or a Bachelor’s degree in Photography. Not every image needs to be polished and perfect. In fact, people love authentic looking photos that do not have layers of Photoshop. Just be sure that the photo is not blurry and showcases what you want it to say. And before you post, try optimizing the sizes for each platform. Facebook’s optimal photo size is 1200×1200 or 1200×628 pixels, Instagram 1080×1080 pixels, and Twitter 1024×512 pixels when expanded, but shown in preview as 506X235 pixels.


So get out that iPhone or Android, clean off the lens, and start taking those photos. All of social media is waiting to see them!