Fair use in social media: how to avoid copyright infringement

The issue of copyright infringement is a hot topic for lots of very good reasons. And it’s especially important in an age of growing social media use.

People are encouraged to use their favorite social platforms to share all kind of content, and it’s rare that the original creator of the work is credited.

So how does fair use apply to social media posting? And what are the best ways to avoid infringement while still being able to share the content that you love?

The facts

Any original work which you create is eligible for automatic protection under copyright laws which exist in most parts of the world. This means that anyone who wants to copy, adapt or distribute the work must get your permission before going ahead.

Of course permission is rarely sought when people share content on social media, so if you are not the original creator or owner of a copyrighted work, reposting it on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook is technically an act of copyright infringement.

There are caveats that are unique to social media. For example, if you are sharing content that has been posted to a given platform within the platform itself, it is likely that this is entirely above board.

This is because social media companies set out licensing terms which users must accept if they want to sign up. Basically this is a necessary clause so that functions like re-tweeting and sharing are achievable in the first place.

The exceptions

Fair use is a means by which copyrighted material can be reproduced, on social media and elsewhere, without the permission of the owner so long as at least one of a number of requirements are met.

Each instance of a copyright infringement claim being defended via fair use will be dealt with individually, since there are arguments to be made and quite a bit of wiggle room regarding what constitutes a legitimate example of fair use and what is genuine infringement.

As in other contexts, fair use of copyrighted material on social media can include content which parodies the original work, or is used to review or critique it in some way.

Excerpts of a larger work can also be covered by fair use. Likewise so long as the copied work does not diminish the value of the original, it should be allowable.

Playing it safe

As with any issue surrounding copyright infringement, it is better to be safe than sorry, especially since social media makes it so easy for copyright owners to find out when their work is being distributed without their permission.

If you are re-tweeting or otherwise reposting content that a creator has already added to the social media site themselves, this is clearly entirely above board and indeed actively encouraged by most creators in the modern age.

If you are copying the work of another creator and you do not own the copyright or have their prior permission, and it does not constitute fair use, you can expect that there will be repercussions.

Some platforms, like YouTube, have automatic processes for detecting copyright conflicts and those who step outside the boundaries of the law and the policies of the service itself may suffer serious consequences. Likewise if you are a copyright owner, registering your work can help provide you with the proof you need to fight any infringement cases that crop up.

How to avoid copyright infringement

At the end of the day, the best way to avoid copyright infringement on social media is to only post content that you have created yourself and use the platform’s built in tools to share the work of others legitimately.

Resist the temptation to copy without permission and you will be able to steer clear of any unwanted ramifications.

Photo by Georgia de Lot