I’m not sure what makes people think they can just grab photos off the internet and publish them on Facebook. Maybe it’s just one of those “Everybody does it” things. Maybe it’s the pretty safe bet that no one will file charges against you. Maybe it’s sheer ignorance. Well, if that’s the case, let me fix that. It’s illegal, folks. Copyrighted images (i.e. almost any photos that you didn’t personally take) are protected by law against… wait for it… COPYing. And the Facebook user’s agreement strictly forbids it as well (because they are bright enough to know they need to cover their own asses).
The lack of a © symbol or copyright notice is NOT an indication that it’s OK to use it.
Certainly there are some notable exceptions, and here are a few:
- Clip Art images that are offered free to the public. (Not all clip art images are free.)
- Images owned by the federal government are usually (but not always) placed in the “public domain”, which means you can use them.
- Images that are offered for sale, for which you have purchased a license.
- Pictures you took yourself, with your own camera.
- Pictures taken by someone else, who has given you permission to publish them.
- Photos, videos, etc. posted legally by the copyright owner to sites like Facebook and YouTube. (Posting them there implies you’re OK with people sharing them.)
There’s a real grey area surrounding Facebook, because when you “Share” a photo, you don’t know who owns the rights, or whether it was originally posted legally. Someday the courts will almost certainly decide whether a re-post or share of an illegal posting is a crime, but to my knowledge, it’s still a grey area. I just think it’s time to start this conversation because creative works are being ripped off every day and posted on Facebook. And I want all of my readers, my clients, and my friends to be aware that it’s illegal.
Disclaimer: You know I’m not a lawyer, so don’t think that my advice on this site constitutes legal advice. It’s marketing advice. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer.