Social Media Copyright: How Influencers Protect Their Content

In almost every industry, from beauty, to fitness, to technology, you’ll find an influencer on social media. These small business owners use social media to interact with consumers and promote their brand with various types of content. 

In the age of marketing on social media, some influencers have found that their content is being stolen and used for the benefit of others — or, in some cases, to scam consumers. In order to protect this content or the influencer’s intellectual property, copyrights are necessary. Copyrights protect the original works of someone under the United States Constitution.  

Is your business on social media? Are you looking to grow as an influencer? No matter what your case may be, you’ll want to protect your content. More than 2 billion people use social media, making it an opportune place to grow your business. However, in doing so, you’re also putting your intellectual property at risk. 

Learn more about social media copyrights and what you can do to protect your content online. 

Copyright law protects original works of authorship. For influencers on social media, copyright law helps to protect information like: 

  • Websites. 
  • Writing.
  • Architecture. 
  • Movies.
  • Computer software. 
  • Artwork.
  • Novels
  • Songs. 
  • Photos. 

While copyright law can’t protect ideas, facts, or methods of operation, it may protect the way they are expressed. This becomes important for influencers who use social media to self-promote. 

Social media makes it easy to publish almost anything instantly, allowing influencers to mass-market themselves with ease. What many influencers don’t know is not everything published online is protected under copyright law. Things like product names, titles, and slogans instead require protection under trademark law

Copyright infringement occurs when another person reproduces, distributes, or displays a copyrighted work as their own. Many people believe that information published online is not covered by copyright law and can, therefore, be used for anything — but that’s not the case. 

When it comes to social media influencers and copyright infringement, there are plenty of examples. Sometimes, a brand will steal an influencer’s content and take credit for it as their own, as we saw with Nita Batra and Brittani Friedman. These two influencers filed separate class-action lawsuits in 2018 accusing PopSugar of reposting misappropriated versions of pictures from their Instagram accounts.

In other cases, celebrity influencers will steal the intellectual property of the paparazzi and claim it as their own, as demonstrated in the Cepeda v. Hadid case. In any event, copyright infringement is illegal and punishable by law. 

Unlike copyright infringement, fair use is when materials are copied for a limited and transformative purpose. This means that an influencer’s work can be reproduced to:

  • Be commented on.
  • Be critiqued.
  • Be reported on. 
  • To teach. 
  • For scholarship. 
  • For research. 
  • To be parodied. 

No permission from the influencer is required to do so under fair use. There are four factors courts use to determine if something falls under fair use or infringement: 

  1. The purpose or character of the use. 
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work being duplicated. 
  3. How much of the work is taken and the substantiality of the portion taken. 
  4. How the repurposing of the content will affect the potential market. 

There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to social media copyright. Young influencers are especially at risk of their content being stolen for a profit. These social media users enter into deals with little or no business experience, risking all of their content for the promise of a substantial paycheck. 

Influencers should be cautious of how their content is being used to prevent others from profiting from their hard work. When you post content on social media, social media sites do not own the rights to your content. Rather, you are giving the platform you post on consent to reuse your content, but only to a certain extent. 

Platforms That Help Protect Content

Fortunately for influencer marketers, there are sites out there that have privacy policies in place that protect your content from copyright issues. Platforms that help to protect the content influencers publish include: 

Influencer marketing is a fast-growing industry. Whether you’re new to the influencer game or you’re looking to step up security, there are ways you can protect your content as an influencer. 

Avoid copyright infringement with the four methods dissected below, and prevent others from stealing your content. 

Create a watermark

Watermarks are a faint design applied that designates the original creator of the work. Often, photographers will use watermarks to ensure no one can take credit for the photos they publish online. 

As video content continues to grow in popularity, watermarks are also being applied to video. Whether it’s in the corner of your shot or as a banner across the screen, watermarks are a simple yet effective way to help protect your content.  

If you’re an influencer in the marketing of publishing long-form articles, a copyright notice can be beneficial. Include a copyright notice at the end of your work to take full ownership and prevent others from stealing it. 

Your copyright notice should include:

  1. The copyright symbol ©.
  2. The year of first publication.
  3. The name of the copyright owner.

Incorporating as an LLC

It may not be front of mind for aspiring influencers and social media creators, but a person’s public image and creative works can represent the beginnings of a small business. Influencers can be individuals operating under their own name or collaborative teams; as such, it may be necessary to establish a brand name for the business and register a domain along with relevant social media handles. Formally incorporating (either as an individual or a group) and forming an LLC can establish firmer legal standing, including protecting the business name and helping make liability and ownership more navigable and easier to protect. 

As the brand and online following grows, it may even become necessary to hire employees or contract help with production, sales, creation of branded swag, or campaign management. All of these stages of growth and evolution require coordination with local and federal law to secure adequate protection for creative works and properties. It may sound complicated to “go corporate” as a social media influencer, but that may ultimately be the best way to protect your image, ideas, and brand.

Use a DMCA Badge

DMCA Badge is a seal of protection on a website that deters thieves from stealing your content. There are a variety of services that DMCA provides that help protect content, from WordPress plugins to free services that will watermark your photos for you. 

Upload a smaller photo

Another quick and easy way to protect your content is to upload smaller photos to your social media channels. Images are displayed at a smaller size on social media, discouraging people from trying to steal your photos because they turn out blurry. Uploading smaller photos to your social channels will help ensure this method works. 

You can also disable hot links. This helps you stop people from sharing your content by not allowing people to link to what is published on your own site. To enable hotlink protection for your published work, you’ll need to update the .htaccess file on your website. 

These tips for publishing on social media can help keep your content protected online, but consult an attorney with intellectual property experience for more definitive guidance.  

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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