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A Guide to Fair Use on Instagram

If you ever want to use someone else’s copyrighted images 🖼️ on your Instagram account, blog post 📝, or other digital platforms, you should be familiar with the copyright doctrine of fair use on Instagram.

“Fair use is a legal doctrine 📜 that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances” (via copyright.gov). 

But what exactly are the “certain circumstances” in which fair use permits using copyright work? 

There are four fair use exemptions to copyright law:

1. Purpose and character of use

2. Nature of the work

3. Amount used

4. Effect of use on the market

However, Instagram influencers or anyone looking to use images in their content should focus 🔎 on the first circumstance, as it’s the most likely to keep them safe from copyright flags:

Purpose and character of use

If you’re posting a copyrighted piece of art to sell your line of paintbrushes 🖌️ – which the original artist didn’t even use – you’re likely to be flagged 🚩 for copyright infringement.

Generally, using copyrighted material to make a profit 💲 is a big no-no and will result in copyright infringement charges.

On the other hand, if you post an artist’s work to educate your audience on linework and style, you’re most likely in the clear, as educational 🤓 uses are usually considered fair.

In fact, any time you make commentary 💬 on a piece of art, whether in the form of critique, praise, or satire, you are transforming 🌀 that art and making it your own.

Believe it or not, even making a meme from a piece of art is transformation! 

The most important component of fair use is changing the purpose the art serves.

What may have once served as a photograph 📸 of a bird 🐦 in a field could, with some transformation, now work as a piece of social commentary, thus making it fair use.

As a rule of thumb, be sure to say something different with the content you post than the original poster did. Also, when in doubt, play it safe and don’t use the material.