Most of us are familiar with Instagram – a social media engine, primarily utilized in its all-too-familiar form of a phone application, that allows users to share images and videos of themselves or others for public viewing and potential recognition.

With the increased popularity of photo-sharing social media tools like Instagram, users have begun to wonder more about what, if any, intellectual property rights they may own to the content they publish to such sites. In a previous post, we discussed the legal implications of posting content to social media and found that the user is often the primary owner of their content.

This begs the question – if each user is the owner of the content he/she posts, what, if any, are the legal implications of reposting the content of another user?

Copyright concerns

While social media sites allow their users to repost other users’ content through the simple click of a button, doing so may raise copyright infringement concerns unless express permission is sought prior to reposting.

A recent trend on social media is the advent of repost accounts, which are user accounts that collect other users’ content on a particular topic of interest and post it onto one social media page for easy access. Often, such repost accounts can have millions of followers and reach a wide-range audience.

Repost accounts are not the only users of the “regram” function; this easily accessible feature is used by millions of users on a daily basis. Yet, despite its popularity, the reposting feature may lead users to face legal ramifications. For instance, celebrities have faced legal action for reposting paparazzi pictures of themselves. Most recently, Gigi Hadid faced a copyright-infringement lawsuit for sharing an image of herself that had been taken by a paparazzi agency. Ms. Hadid’s case was dismissed, but the potential for copyright infringement by everyday users and businesses remains.

Users of social media should bear in mind any potential legal implications before reposting other users’ content to their business or personal page.

While it can sometimes be difficult to determine if the content you intend to re-share is protected by copyright, the following rules of thumb can help you navigate the social media world more safely:

  • Stick to original content – If you can, choose to post original content rather than to repost another user’s content.
  • Seek permission – A copyright is an intellectual property right to grant another user permission to use your original work and to prevent others from doing so without your permission. Seeking permission to use another user’s content and being granted that permission provides a safety net in reposting content.
  • Giving credit or modifying the content may be insufficient – Despite the growing popularity of repost apps, Instagram guidelines suggest that giving credit to the copyright owner or including a disclaimer to say that you did not intend to infringe copyright after the fact may be insufficient to protect you from infringing copyright.
  • Consider exemptions – In Canada, the Copyright Act allows a Fair Dealing exemption whereby users may use copyrighted material without permission for a number of restricted purposes, such as: research, education, parody or satire, criticism, review, and news reporting. The purpose of this exemption is to enable the use of copyrighted content for societal benefit.
  • With the increase use of social media by both consumers and businesses, it is paramount to understand your rights and responsibilities in posting and reposting content. Social media users must be cautious when seeking to repost another user’s content in order to minimize the risk of legal liability.