If you’re on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter, you’ve probably shared someone else’s post before. Most of these platforms make it really easy to do that. It’s estimated that over 25% of tweets are retweets! And you can bet that percentage is even higher on Pinterest.
Yet I hear stories all the time of people who get their posts taken down because the text or image belonged to someone else.
Sometimes, people even get in trouble for it.
You can get your account deleted or even get sued for using someone else’s content without their permission because it’s against copyright law in many countries.
How Do They Get Copyright?
In most westernized countries, the creator of something automatically obtains copyright when they create it. They then have control over that copyright, including the right to sell it or give it to someone else or to give someone else limited rights to using their copyrighted material.
So all of your art is automatically copyrighted to you. If you register your copyrights, it’s just an added legal protection so no one can argue that you didn’t create the piece.
What This Means When You Want to Share Something
When someone posts on social media, they are not giving up their copyright. They are simply publishing, like an author might publish a book. This means that if you decide to share their copyrighted material, you could get in trouble.
Most of the time, nothing will happen. You’ve probably experienced that a lot. You post and no one complains and nothing happens, especially if you credit the initial poster.
Crediting the initial poster is a courtesy on social media because it’s assumed that the initial poster is the copyright holder so you are making sure to tell people about them when you use their content.
But occasionally the copyright holder might not appreciate being shared and could take steps to protect their work.
Why Wouldn’t An Artist Want Their Work Shared?
Some artists keep a very close reign on their work because they don’t want it being associated with just anyone or just any other art. So they might be curating the places they are featured so they are all top tier magazines, for instance. Or they may be careful about what work theirs is shown alongside so that they are only associated with a certain type of art or level of artistic ability.
If you were to post their art on your Instagram “art assistant” account among lots of other art, they might not get excited. They might be frustrated that people are associating them with a hobby artist, maybe. Or that their work is alongside too many abstracts.
In addition, sometimes an artist might feel like the poster is trying to profit from their art and that could upset a struggling artist – and rightfully so.
But that doesn’t matter.
Why someone wants to stop you from using their copyrighted is not the point.
They own the copyright and can make decisions about it no matter their reasoning.
What You Can Do to Stay in the Clear
The easiest way to avoid getting in trouble for sharing someone’s copyrighted material is to simply ask them before you share it.
This is a little bit of a hassle when we’re in the habit of the immediacy of sharing something, but it will pay off in the end because you won’t be worried about hurting another artist or getting in trouble.
If you keep your notifications turned on, when you get a reply from the artist you’ll be able to quickly see the reply and share the post. And many people reply within just a few minutes.
You’re also safe if they have asked you, even informally, to share the post. So a simple “please RT” at the end of a tweet gives you permission to retweet the post. On Instagram, someone might ask you to regram as a giveaway entry. It would be completely legal for you to do that too.
The key is getting the A-okay from the copyright owner.
Next time you’re about to post something you didn’t create, take a quick step back and make sure to get permission so you can stay on the good side of the law and support other creatives while you’re at it.