Copyright 101: How to Legally Use Images in Your Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing has been proven to be more effective with the use of images. According to Hubspot’s latest research, photo posts on Facebook get 53% more likes and 104% more comments. Links on photo posts also obtain 84% more clicks. If you use images in your social media marketing, make sure you’re not violating any copyright laws. You can’t just use someone else’s images without getting their permission. Giving attribution may not be enough.

With this in mind, here are some guidelines that will help you legally use images in your social media marketing.

  1. Make Sure You Own the Image (or Have Permission to Use It) before Publishing It

You automatically own creative properties that your workers create while they’re employed at your company. However, you do not own creative works that contractors or freelancers create for you. This is why a work-for-hire-agreement should be in place to identify you as the owner of anything that a freelancer or contractor produces.

  1. Get Permission from the Image Creator

Most people gladly give their permission to let others use their image, provided that they receive the credit by linking back to their profiles. This commonly happens on Instagram even though reposting is in violation of Instagram’s Terms of Use.

  1. Choose the Right License When Purchasing Stock Images

Pick the type of license for using a stock image. In general, the more expensive the license is, the more things you can do with the picture. When using a stock image, make sure the license you have allows your intended use of the image. Some licenses only limit your use to non-commercial only. Make sure to check the license agreement of the images you purchase so as to not run afoul of any copyright issues.

  1. Use Tools to Find Free Photos and Stock Images

Tools like Google Advanced Image Search have a filter for images. You can look under “usage rights”, and choose “free to use, share or modify, even commercially.” You can also find over 200 million free stock images on by filtering the image permission. Free images for commercial use are also available on platforms such as Burst by Shopify. Just like purchasing a stock image, make sure to review the license agreement of the image before using it in your marketing efforts

  1. Assume That Your Use is Not Covered by Fair Use

Fair use is a cloudy and confusing regulation. Although fair use allows limited use of a copyrighted work for acceptable purposes, it doesn’t guarantee your protection. A four-part test is used to determine if your use of the image passes the fair use policy. However, even if you follow all four guidelines, owners who are protective of their works can always file a dispute.


Always take an extra minute to find the right image to use and respect the rights of the owner. Breaking copyright rules is a costly mistake that lets you pay with time and money. Be a responsible marketer by understanding and complying with the law. If you pay contractors, freelancers, or social media agencies to handle your marketing activities, always make sure that they follow copyright laws. Your business will be held accountable for any noncompliance. If you have the budget, It’s always better to be on the safe side and have photos taken by your own photographer.