Q: Do I give up my copyrights of an image if I publish it on social media?
A: The term copyright when it comes to any type of creative works is pretty much what it sounds like: the right to copy.
The person that created the work and anyone they authorize to use the work are the only ones that can legally make use of it.
While it’s true that when you signed up for your social media accounts, you agreed to allow each of the social networks to share or reuse your images, it does not mean that you gave up the copyrights.
“When you create an image on your own, you automatically own the copyrights to that image, without having to do anything extra” according to Maria Crimi Speth, an attorney at Jaburg Wilk that specializes in copyright and trademark law.
Many people confuse registering a copyright as the process that provides the owner with the rights, but it’s actually a legal means to make it feasible to pursue violators of your copyright and to be eligible for certain types of damages.
Speth has written a book called “Protect Your Writings: A Legal Guide for Authors” and is working on another that specifically deals with protecting photographs in the era of social media.
“Registering an image with the U.S. Copyright Office online is actually pretty easy to do. You don’t necessarily need an attorney to do it,” Speth says.
Where an attorney comes in is when someone is violating your copyright and you want to seek legal remedies, which is also where having it registered is helpful.
Where and how to register a copyright
Since your pictures are already in digital form, it’s a pretty straight-forward process to submit an application to register an image at
Unless you’ve done it before, you’ll have to start by setting up a user account.
Once you’re a registered user, you’ll need to log into the system to get started and follow the on-screen prompts. The only thing that may throw you is that it requires you to pay the registration fee before you actually upload your images.
The application fee for photographs is $65, but you can register up to 750 images on the same application.
Keep in mind, the information you provide to register the image – like your address – will become public record.
Violating copyrights is easy
A common misconception when it comes to images is that if they can be found with a Google search, they must be in the public domain.
Using any image without permission from the copyright holder can get you into legal trouble, especially if you’re using it for a business.
The good news is that there are lots of images that make themselves available for reuse through websites like this one.
There’s also an option to only show images that are labeled for reuse in a Google image search by clicking on the Tools menu, then on Usage Rights.
Even then, you should visit the website that is offering the image to see if they have specific credit requirements in order for you to use it.
Violating an image copyright can result in financial penalties that can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars per image, per use, so don’t do it!