Copyrights in the Social Media Universe

Copyrights in the Social Media Universe

Social Media use for business has exploded, especially when Covid has placed a strain on many other ways of building a business.  While the popularity of social media for business rises so does copyright infringement.  Copyrights protect original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium.  This broad definition covers anything from photos, drawings, artwork, music, videos and the written medium.  As soon as a work is created, the author enjoys copyrights in that work, whether filed with the Library of Congress or not.  Using copyrighted material without the owner’s permission is copyright infringement (i.e. stealing).  So how do you go about protecting your copyrights in the social media universe? And even more so, make sure you’re not stepping on someone else’s copyrights?

Protecting Your Own Copyrights

Copywrite notice

Copyright Notice: Placing a copyright notice on your work will notify the public that you are claiming copyrights to the material. It will show ownership and, at least in theory, discourage others from infringing on that work.  A copyright notice is very simple.  Let’s use this blog article I’ve written as an example.  © AMC Legal, P.C. 2021.  You list 1) the © symbol, copyright, or copr., 2) the name of the author (if claiming under a business list the business name, or your name if not), and 3) the year you created or first published the work.  Though a copyright notice is not required by law, it certainly goes a long way to showing you are claiming a copyright in the material, and also makes it very difficult for someone who infringes on your work to claim they weren’t aware it was copyrighted.

Filing a Copyright:  Although a common law copyright is in effect as soon as a work is created, you will need to file a copyright with the Library of Congress in order to sue in federal court for infringement.  You can work with an attorney for questions on how to do this properly.

Myths and Misconceptions

Giving attribution to the author or linking back to the original work protects you from infringement.  This is often practiced to get around copyright infringement but it does not avoid infringement.  You must have permission from the copyright owner.  There is no way around that.

The owner posted it on social media so it’s free to share.  This is a common, but mistaken belief. The work is still protected.  Just because it’s easy to copy and post doesn’t mean it’s not protected.

If the owners finds me and complains then I’ll just remove the post.  Not a good business plan to avoid a lawsuit.  Yes, that may satisfy some copyright owners, but if you run into an aggressive owner then you may find yourself subject to a demand for damages and/or a lawsuit.

Keep in mind, the maximum penalty for a copyright infringement is $150,000 per work.  This would be in addition to court costs and attorney’s fees.  Copyright owners can have the social media sites remove infringing content. If you are violating the social media site’s rules then you may lose your account, which in turn will hurt your business.  Is it worth it for a post?


Downloading a photo from the internet, or another source, is copyright infringement.  However, you can use great images for your posts without getting into trouble. There are many royalty free and paid for sites where you can get great images for your social media and blog posts (like the ones I’ve used in this blog).  For free and royalty free posts you can check out Canva, Unsplash,, Flickr, or Pexels, just to name a few.


This is the one area I get the most push back on.  Using quotes such as a Tony Robbins inspirational quote, an Oprah Winfrey quote, a quote from our political leaders… are all copyrighted.  Now, each owner may not be bothered if you quote them, after all, it’s promoting their services.  But it is infringement. And after all, you won’t know if that copyright will be enforced or not until it’s too late.  The easy test to know if it’s fair use is “Is it for commercial purposes?”  Are you using it to promote your own business?  If yes, then make sure the copyright is expired, in the public domain or you have permission to use it.

Fair Use

You can use copyrighted material if it qualifies as Fair Use.  Fair Use can be tricky to define but essentially means you’ve changed the material in such a significant way that it has become its own work. It also applies to parodies, criticism, news, and the like.

What Rights Are You Giving Up?

When posting on social media you are maintaining the copyright to the material, however, have you read the terms of use of the sites you’re posting on?  You are likely giving the social media site a license to use the work for its own purposes.  Read those terms and keep them in mind when sharing.

Copyright Ownership Take Aways

If you don’t vigilantly protect your rights, you may lose them.  The best advice that any attorney can make is if you really want the material protected, the best way is to keep it off of social media.  With that being said, if you are going to post your copyrighted content then be sure to use the copyright notice on the material.  If you have a photo or video of yours that you’ll be posting, put a watermark on the photo. This can be more effect than a copyright notice since it may be easily cropped out.  And of course, monitor where it’s being used.  If someone is infringing, then report them to the social media site immediately.

Social media

Posting Take Aways

Be sure you are not infringing on someone else’s copyrights.  It’s not worth losing your social media site or attracting unwanted attention from a copyright owner.  Use free or paid sources for royalty free content and media.  And most of all, respect the right of the copyright owner. They worked hard to build their business just like you are.  Ask their permission to share it. They may happily agree.  The best practice is to take a moment to pause and think before you press that post button.

Attorney Allison Cychosz is a Success Strategist with WESOS and founder of AMC Legal. To learn more about Allison and her firm, please visit her profile page . 

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This article was originally published on the AMC Legal website 4/1/2021 and is reposted by express permission of the author.

WESOS womens networking member Allison Cychosz