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Answered By Library Staff
Last Updated: Sep 29, 2020     Views: 29

What can and cannot be shared on our social media accounts depends on each individual situation. To know whether or not you should share something, it is important to take into account how you are sharing the content. Below is a list of best practices and scenarios that account for the 4 factors of Fair Use

Why does this matter? While the legal risk of uploading copyrighted images on social media that are not ours might be low and a lot of other pages and accounts do it, we do risk our status for keeping the pages if we violate the DMCA or the platforms' codes of conduct. Takedown notices may count against our standing with the platforms and our accounts may be removed entirely if we are caught in violation. We also want to be modeling good, legal behavior for our students!

Best practices: 

1. It is better to use the share (or a reblog or retweet) feature on a platform rather than downloading an image (making a copy) and uploading to our page/account. 

Copyright involves copies. If no copy is being made through a download, then you don't have to worry about copyright! It also gives proper attribution to the content creator if you use a platform's share feature. Here is a GIF that shows how a Facebook page shared content from another page and how you can also share that content without downloading (DIG: A History Podcast may or may not be the actual creator of this meme, but for our purposes we will pretend like they are or at least have permission). Often when you share on a platform, you can add your own caption above the content too. 

share feature to a page

As you can see, the attribution is built into the share feature and there is no need to download the content. This is what a visitor could do to get back to the original: 

how to find creator

Please keep in mind that when you share content, it can often appear like an endorsement of the page that created the content. You might consider how that reflects on the college before you share from certain pages.

2. It is indeed better to create your own content.

Just because it is on the internet does not mean you are free to use as you wish. Often when we share content by downloading and uploading, we are not transforming the use because the creator intended it to be on the social media platform or online in the first place. It does not always make sense to download content we did not create if we could have just used a platform's share feature to share from the creator or shared via a link. This is especially true if we were to take an image from an account or website similar to the one we wanted to upload to. The nature of the work has not likely been transformed with our use. Therefore, it weighs against Fair Use.

For instance, if we wanted to download and upload this photo we found online to the TCC Library Facebook page (because it is not branded and seems like any library could use it, right?), it would not be considering the nature of the copyrighted work (it is an informational graphic meant to inform library users about a chat service. If we used it, it would be for the same purpose it was originally uploaded for and would not really change the image's meaning). Granted, it could have been created under a CC license, but we do not know that just from this page alone and it would take investigation work. By default, all created things in fixed form have copyright. 

google images

However, if we were to make our own version of this kind of image, we would not be stepping on anyone's copyright. Going this route might present plagiarism issues at times, but that is not a legal issue (recommended video link). We can find free images to use to create our own content using this FAQ

This topic gets a bit more complicated when talking about memes and transformative uses of copyrighted material. You can learn more about that here. 

3. In general, it is better to link or embed to copyrighted content than to upload. 

Usually, social media platforms will accept a link to an image and populate it without you having to upload. You can learn more about the nuances of that at this link and here is a GIF that demos how to post a link to generate an image without having to download and upload a copy: 

populate image on facebook

By demoing here with a picture of King George I am not saying that if we had instead uploaded it wouldn't have been transformative (it depends on why we are posting the picture of King George, the caption we might give, etc.). I'm only demoing the feature. I did not actually post! 

Sometimes, it's also easy to share from one platform to another. Here is an image from Instagram being posted to Facebook -- all without violating copyright! 

instagram image on facebook

Embedding content is slightly different, because you need to copy a share code instead of a URL. 

When you copy a photo, upload it to your website and make the site available to the public, you’re implicating several of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights in the photo, including the right to reproduce copyrighted content and to display that content publicly.

But when you use Instagram’s API and insert embed code into your site, a copy of the photo isn’t hosted on your web server. Instead, the code instructs a visitor’s web browser to fetch the contents of a post directly from Instagram’s own servers. Your site is essentially acting as a “window” to Instagram. It’s Instagram, not your site, that ultimately controls the content that’s displayed to your visitors. 

[From Copyright Lately]

4. For the library especially, posting book covers or other media jacket images are generally accepted as OK to use for an institution like ours in most cases, depending on our use.  

Typically we (library staff) are using covers in an arguably transformative and educational way. Also, the cover image we are using is often a smaller version of the original, which has been seen in thumbnails to weigh in favor of Fair Use

See this post for more information. 


Still have questions? Post them below in the comments and we might add answers to this best practices list!