Copyright law extends to social media so you should think about the consequences of unlawfuly using a photo that someone has uploaded onto their social media page

Think about how you would feel if you were on your way home from work and took a photo of an office fire, asking your Facebook followers if they knew anything about what was happening. By the time you get home that evening that same photo is all over the news and is being used without asking or crediting you.

Benefits of using images uploaded to social media

building on fireImage of crane on fire uploaded to Facebook | Greta Balog via Facebook

Social media is an important platform when we think about how journalism and content-making is changing. The truth is now anyone and everyone has the opportunity to break a story and often this is done through social media. Due to its fast and stream of consciousness nature, Twitter is a popular hangout for journalists looking for information on a breaking story that the big news companies haven't found yet. 

Twitter and Facebook are good places to look as you can utilise hashtags that people use. For example, if you see a street blocked off by police on your way somewhere and you want to make a story out of it, look up hashtags relating to where you are e.g. #redfern #youngstreetredfern because you might find someone took a photo of the action right when it happened. 

Photo left was published to Facebook as a crane caught fire in Redfern. Credit: The author

Disadvantages of using images taken from social media 
Sometimes your Twitter or Facebook feed is a good place to look for images around an event that you can use in your story. You must make yourself aware of the dangers around taking photos from social media and using them in your story. Since Twitter and Facebook are not moderated and rely on user-generated content, the image you are wanting to use in your story may be an inaccurate depiction of an event or individual which could land you in hot water down the track. Wherever possible, confirm that the photo is in fact accurate by asking the person and cross-referencing the image against others.

If you use someone's photo which they uploaded to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and do not give them credit for it, just like any other breach of Copyright, you could end up facing a hefty fine or even jail time. Read about this photographer who won 1.2 million dollars after his photo was stolen and used by some pretty huge companies. A person retains copyright when they upload photos to Social Media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You must gain the author's permission to use the photo they took and if they deny you permission then you must not use their photo. 

Before you decide to use a photo from social media...
1. Think about the privacy settings the author has put on their social media page. Chances are if their page is for friends only they aren't going to be happy with you wanting to use their image.
2. If you are wanting to use a person's profile picture ask yourself why you are wanting their photo and if publishing it would be in Contempt (e.g. publishing the photo of a wanted criminal/victim of a crime while the trial is on)
3. No permission, no go - as a rule of thumb its always best to get permission in writing. This could just be an email or even tweet or text.
4. If the photo is of a child under the age of 16 you must gain permission from their parent or legal guardian 
5. Even if the author gives you permission to use their photo could you be putting them in danger by making them known? For example if they have just won 14 million dollars in the lottery, you might be putting them in danger by revealing what they look like. 

social media 419944 640Social media is a platform where copyright still exists | Pixabay

How to give credit for an image taken from social media 
Once you've been given the green light from the author to use their photo in your story you must acknowledge that the photo is not yours. There are a number of ways to go about this. If time permits, ask the person how they would like you to attribute them. For example, they may want you to add their full name and provide a link to their Facebook profile, website or blog. Or they may simply request that you attribute the image to their first name. 

To sum it all up 
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages in using other peoples photos taken from Social Media. You can only use a photo from a person's social media page in your story if you seek and gain their permission. Without their permission you may be in breach of Copyright. Once you have got their permission, it is essential to credit the author of the image. 

Make sure you are in the clear when using someone else's photos
The myths and facts about copyright 

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