There's no doubt that photo sharing is the crux of social media. Sites like Instagram and Pinterest are built around the appeal of beautiful images, while photos on platforms like Facebook can boost the reach of a post. In fact, photos on Facebook get 53 percent more likes and 104 percent more comments than text posts, so it pays to find great images to pair with your content.

Finding an image isn't typically the hard part. The challenge is in finding pictures that you can legally use. Keep reading to learn what can and can't be shared on social media, so you can grow your online presence in a safe and legal way.

Check for Problems in Your Own Photos

Are you Illegally Sharing On Social Media?

Image via Flickr by magicatwork

If you host a company holiday party or sponsor a 5K, you may end up posting photos from the events on social media. While copyright isn't an issue with these photos, you do need to worry about the nature of the content you're sharing.

Keep these two criteria in mind when selecting images to upload:

  • Is the photo potentially damaging?
  • Does the subject have a reasonable right to privacy?

The company holiday party is a perfect example. Images of employees having a few drinks can be potentially embarrassing if one of your team members looks sloppy. Furthermore, such images could be used as evidence if one of your employees gets behind the wheel and is stopped for a DUI.

The second criteria addresses images in which the subject could reasonably expect to function without worrying about having their photo taken. Bathrooms and courtrooms are the most common examples. However, this issue can also arise at company events. If your team is visiting a local hospital sing to children or talk with patients, for example, you may be violating the patients' right to privacy by posting candid photos.

Be sure to ask permission before posting event photos — even if it means waiting a day or two. Some companies use photo release forms to ask employees and event attendees to give the company permission to share their likenesses.

Watch for Copyright Infringement

Most brands' biggest concern when sharing online content is copyright infringement. It can be frustrating to find the perfect image for a post, only to realize that it's protected under copyright law.

Facebook has a contact form and FAQ page for artists and designers whose work has been used without permission. The social network takes an "act first, ask questions later" approach to copyright infringement and may remove the photo even before contacting the page administrator. Violators who repeatedly share images and videos that are protected under copyright law can be removed from Facebook altogether.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to verify whether an image is protected by copyright. First, check the artist's website or the image classification if you're using a photo aggregator like Flickr. Image owners will often specify the requirements for sharing their content and what it can or cannot be used for. You may be allowed to use the image as long as you give the artist credit in your social media post. It only takes a few seconds to add an image credit, which can spare you from a frustrating copyright violation notice. You can also contact a copyright attorney for more specific questions.

It Is Possible To Fight a Copyright Infringement Claim

If you find that your post has been removed and don't think the company or artist has a viable claim of copyright infringement, it is possible to fight back.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects blogs and websites that remove unapproved content within a timely manner after receiving notification of a potential copyright violation. This is why Facebook is quick to remove such posts. However, there are certain "fair use" instances in which content can be used for news reporting, teaching, and research. Fair Use also covers content that is shared without commercial intent.

One such case centers around the popular Dancing Baby video, in which a mom filmed a few seconds of her baby dancing to the radio. The video was flagged for copyright infringement and removed due to unauthorized use of the song. However, the mother continues to argue in court that the video falls under "fair use."

If you find that your image or post has been removed and think you have a fair use claim, you can appeal through the social platform you're using.

Most brands will never have a problem with social media as long as they ask permission from photo subjects and make sure credit is given to the image owner. As long as you follow those criteria, you can keep sharing with confidence.