Social Media and Copyright Rules

Even on social media, there is a chance of infringing on someone’s copyrighting material. Therefore, it is important to become familiar with copyright laws and regulations. The following is a brief introduction meant to help you get started. 

A great article regarding Social Media and Copyright Laws can be found here: Social Media & The Law - 11 Things You Need to Know


Guidelines for posting potentially copyrighted material on your social media accounts

First, determine who owns the material you want to post. Typical examples of copyright “owners” include:

  • Author of a written work
  • Photographer who took the picture
  • Composer of a song or melody
  • Videographer of a video
  • Journal/publisher of a published work
  • Creator of artwork
  • Programmer of software
  • Employer of any of these people if the work was done in connection with their employment

How do you get permission to post copyrighted material?

  • Contact the owner
  • Contact the Copyright Clearance Center at www.copyright.com
  • Contact Wilmington College General Counsel

Could posting of the material be considered a “fair use” under the Copyright Act?

Use is likely fair if:

  • Character of the use is nonprofit, educational, or personal
  • Nature of the material used is factual published material
  • Only a small amount of the material will be posted
  • Impact on the market for the material is very small


Use is likely not fair if:

  • Character of the use is commercial (promoting a product or service, charging to access the copyrighted material, advertisements)
  • Nature of the material used is imaginative and/or unpublished
  • The majority of the material will be posted (for example, an entire book or chapter instead of a quoted sentence)
  • Use detrimentally impacts the market for the original
  • Use was “fair” at one time, but has been repeatedly reused or more widely distributed, or the copyright owner has requested that the use be limited or discontinued. For example, use of a portion of a journal article or a photo may have been Fair Use one time, but used annually for the same event or purpose, loses its Fair Use character.

What are the penalties for infringing someone’s copyright?

  • Typically, a copyright holder’s first response to an act of infringement is to send you a “cease and desist” letter demanding that you stop infringement. The copyright holder can go to court to get an injunction or a court order requiring you to remove the infringing material from your account, Web page, or profile. Additionally, a copyright holder can file a claim for actual damages suffered by the copyright holder as a result of your infringement. 
  • If the copyright has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, the copyright holder can file a claim for “statutory damages” without proving that the copyright holder was actually harmed by the infringement. An award of statutory damages can be as little as $750 or as much as $30,000. If the copyright holder can prove that you knew the work was protected under the law, an award of damages can be as much as $150,000.

What are the implications of posting copyrighted material on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube?

  • When you post copyrighted materials on these social media websites, such as Facebook, they automatically obtain a license to use those materials, commonly known as an Intellectual Property, or “IP” license. They can use this IP license to share the materials all over the world without your further permission and without paying you any royalties. Some websites also reserve the right to change, commercialize and publicly perform or display the materials. This IP license ends when you delete the materials or terminate your account unless the materials have been shared with others and they have not deleted it. This could mean that the social media website effectively owns a license to use the materials you posted, for whatever purpose it desires, forever.