Idea in short

While social media platforms are useful communication tools, the risks associated with posting content online should not be ignored. Indeed, before posting content on a social media platform, it is important to consider whether you have any legal right to post content or whether such posting could subject you to copyright infringement liability.

One click, and you have shot a picture. A few more, and the picture is on the internet. When dealing with social media, users are constantly violating applicable copyright laws. It has never been so easy to take pictures and publish them. On such platforms as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, users can easily display the pictures shot with their smartphone in just a few clicks for the world to see. In doing so, however, the users often violate the applicable image rights.

From a legal perspective, copyright infringement is the most common intellectual property crime today

says lawyer Till Kreutzer. He is co-founder of a portal that provides information on copyright in digital.

Commonly committed offences

The most common copyright violation on social media is publishing images without consent. The German law says:

Every time you take a picture with some 3rd parties involved and post it on the Internet, you have to first ask that person for permission. Virtually nobody does that nowadays!

says Kreutzer. In addition to the violation of this right to privacy, copyright infringement for digital images also applies, explains Stephan Dirks, a specialist lawyer for copyright and media law:

This is because people often believe that what they find freely on the Internet can be saved and then re-upload elsewhere. But, you need the author’s permission to do so.

Distributing posted pictures

Usually, if you distribute a picture using the share function on social media, you have nothing to fear.

There is a case law of the European Court of Justice that in such cases, as a rule, there is no independent access to the public

explains Dirks. The case is different when you download the photo and then distribute it yourself on social media. In this case, the author or other authorised persons have no control over the distribution, so you need a license for distribution.

Photographing people

In principle, No!

If there are hundreds of people in the picture and a specific individual cannot be explicitly identifiable, then exceptions to the rule apply. In this case, you do not photograph people, but rather a mass of people.

explains Kreutzer. That’s also true for demonstrations.

Photographing children

You need approval from both the parents to photograph children under the age of 14. In this situation, teachers are particularly at risk.

Teachers are constantly breaking all kinds of regulations

says Dirks. Usually, the teachers often content themselves with the permission of one of the parents and make themselves vulnerable. It does not get any easier over the age of 14.

It depends on whether the children are able to recognise the implications of their parents’ decision

explains Kreutzer. In short, if you do not want to run into any problems when photographing minors, get the consent of both parents, if possible. Incidentally, the publication of photos of one’s own children can also have legal consequences – if the children decides against it one day.

Photographing motifs

Motifs are mostly free in Germany, so-called the Freedom of Panorama.

This is a regulation that says that if you can photograph works of art or buildings that may be protected by copyright from the normal street space, then you can put these photos in any form on the Internet and distribute them,

explains Kreutzer. In other countries, however, such regulations do not exist and the motives are protected by copyright laws. Even in Germany, museums and churches could ban shooting photos of the buildings’ interiors.

Avoiding copyright infringements

The easiest thing is to only upload photos that you have taken yourself and that have asked each photographer for permission to publish the photo. If you want to be on the safe side, you can also read the general terms and conditions of the social network in which he wants to post the picture. Not all platforms support a wide distribution the images. While Facebook, Instagram or Twitter make images accessible an undefined public, pictures shared with one or more people via Whatsapp or Telegram are different. In this case, the recipients are precisely known. Hence, this is usually not considered as a distribution and no consent is necessary. Most image rights violations happen in a personal environment. The easiest way is to ask the person who posted the picture to delete it. If that does not happen, you can contact the platform operator for assistance.

Summary

In principle, if you know the source of the picture, reach out to the source directly and request for permission to share. Once a picture is posted on social media, it doesn't lose protection. It may be very easy to copy and share the picture, but it doesn't mean that it's OK to do so. The bottom line is, despite how easy it may be, copyright infringement is a form of theft!