As a brand, you know that putting out consistent, high-quality content is crucial. With page copy and blog posts, you already know that copying and pasting someone else’s work whole isn’t acceptable, both from a legal standpoint and an ethical one. That holds true no matter how persistent your deadlines may be, how great your need for copy is, or how well certain posts resonate with your audience. A massive CTR is no justification for plagiarism, and getting caught – and Google will catch you, eventually – can put a huge dent in your brand equity. With algorithms being tuned to pick up latent semantic indexing on “spun” articles, even mimicking is becoming dicey.

What About Images?

With visual marketing, apps like InstaRepost have blurred the line between flattery and outright theft, making it difficult for marketers to know when they’re being current and when they’re running afoul of repost etiquette. The answer is surprisingly simple – just ask! Getting direct permission from an image creator will save you endless headaches, and increase ethical trust in your brand at the same time. Before you “regram,” consider these important questions:

  • Do I have permission from the original person that posted this image?
  • Am I adhering to their express requests for credit, backlinking, and so on?
  • Do they have permission and freedom to photograph or depict the individuals, property or logos in this image?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” you’re on shaky legal and ethical ground for an Instagram repost. When your company uses an image, if you sell any product or service at all, it can be considered a commercial use of that image. That’s typically one of the most popular clauses that restrict uses for public images, so it’s unacceptable to claim ignorance if the legal hammer comes down. If you’re actually using that image on a product package or printing it on an item like a T-shirt, that’s an even clearer violation that could put you on the hook for damages and after-the-fact royalties.

What If My Customers Provide Them?

Unless you have a clear block of “legalese” that expressly states how, when and where you can use that image, the same principles apply. Granted, there’s a little less fault to go around if it’s voluntarily submitted, but a case can still be made. Work with your legal team or grab a legal template to protect your brand if you plan on soliciting or using customer-provided images, even if they’re of your product. If a customer does not see that legalese before submitting a photograph, they can pursue you for compensation or wrongful use as a worst-case scenario. Chances are your marketing budget doesn’t have settlement dollars built into it, so play it safe!

We live in a sharing culture, so it’s only natural you’d want to highlight beautiful images or winning snapshots of your product and brand on visually-driven social media channels like Instagram. You still can, but being aware of your liability and user rights will guide you through what could otherwise be a bumpy road. If it sounds like stealing and feels like stealing, it probably is – a catchall watermark or credit isn’t a bulletproof shield. Consider this: if there really was no drawbacks to simply using everyone else’s images, why would big brands need their own expensive photography and image campaigns at all? Yet they do, which speaks volumes: follow in their footsteps.

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