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How to Follow the Doctrine of Fair Use in Copyright Law: Images Edition

When it comes to photographs and other types of graphic images 🖼️, following the doctrine of fair use in copyright law is a bit more limited than with other sorts of art, such as music.

For example, transforming a piece of music with a remix or mashup is pretty simple and actually a common practice for many social media creators!

On the other hand, graphics are difficult to change, therefore making transformation and fair use more complicated.

If you’re set on posting copyrighted images on your social media accounts by utilizing the doctrine of fair use, consider one of the following strategies to AVOID 🙅‍♂️ infringing on the artist’s rights:

1. Use royalty free stock photos

Royalty free music 🎶 and sound effects are super popular on YouTube, but did you know that there are also websites out there dedicated to providing you with royalty free images?

In case you’re unaware, royalty free content has been licensed for your use under certain circumstances. To get a better idea of what’s out there, check out some of the most popular royalty free sites, including Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash.

While not all stock photo websites offer free access, many do. That being said, if your brand benefits greatly from using these images, you may want to consider paying a monthly fee 💸 to access a greater selection.

Finally, while royalty free content is an easy way to avoid copyright violations, always remember to read 👀 and keep a copy of the full terms of licensure from each website you use. These terms may in fact allow use of some photos on certain social platforms, but not others.

2. Comment and critique

Using copyrighted photographs or still images for the purpose of education abides by the doctrine of fair use in copyright law – assuming you do it right.

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out Peter McKinnon’s method of teaching photography 📷. I always recommend my clients mimic the way Peter puts an image on the screen for a short period of time while simultaneously making comments and critiquing the objects or colors in the photo. 

This method of commenting on copyrighted material abides by the doctrine of fair use as it transforms the art’s purpose. In other words, the material now serves a new purpose as a piece of educational content.

For example, an instructional YouTuber making a how-to video about digital design may comment on the palette of a famous painting 🎨. Then, they may demonstrate how their followers could use the same palette in Photoshop to make a similar digital image!

Ultimately, this strategy is best employed for YouTubers or other creators who have the ability to display a copyrighted photo in a video for only a few seconds.

3. Ask permission and give credit

Perhaps the simplest way to add other people’s art to your social media posts is by simply asking permission!

If you find an image you just need on your page, don’t be afraid to DM the original creator and request 🙏 to use one of your posts. Be sure to mention that your thousands of followers will love the piece, and chances are the artist will appreciate the free exposure!

Assuming they grant you permission, feel free to reuse the image in an appropriate way. For example, do NOT alter their original work.

Additionally, even if they don’t ask outright, you need to credit the creator in your post.  For instance, on Instagram, you can give credit by tagging #️⃣ the artist within the image as well as its description section below.

NOTE that tagging a creator in your repost WITHOUT their explicit permission does NOT ⛔ qualify as proper credit, and DOES violate fair use in copyright law.