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Copyright and Attribution on Instagram

Copyright Instagram

instagram copyright

You’re familiar with the hugely popular photo- (and video) sharing app called Instagram, right? That’s more of a rhetorical question, really, since you’ve come to my site. I’ll work under the assumption that you not only know what Instagram is but also have it on at least one of your mobile devices. I won’t assume you know that you can also check out your feed on a desktop or laptop computer, but you can.

Anyway, it’s fun to upload photos you take and check out what others are sharing. It’s a great way to be an armchair traveler, figure out new places to eat, or even become depressed because your life isn’t as fabulous as everyone else. Oh, the fabulousness! It’s all over Instagram.

Amazing landscape photos that would make Ansel Adams seem average. Food photography suitable for any high-end magazine. And so much more. Truly, the stream of drool-worth photos is phenomenal. According to Instagram, on average 55 million photos are shared daily. That comes to about 2.3 million photos an hour! No wonder we can get sucked in to Instagram.

My question, though, is how many of those photos violate copyright law and the very basic Terms of Use requirement that you only post those photos and videos for which you own the copyright or have been authorized.

US Copyright law, generally, says that if you take the photo then you own the copyright.  It doesn’t matter if the photo (or video) was taken with a mobile device that didn’t exist when the law was written. There are some exceptions for Works for Hire, licenses, governmental works, derivative works, etc. But, we’ll go with the general understanding that if you hold up your mobile device and take a photo (or use an app to create a graphic) then you own the copyright and have a host of exclusive rights that go with it.

Are You Using Instagram In A Way That Could Get You Sued or Suspended?

Every day there are people in my feed posting someone else’s work, seemingly without permission. It seems that some people find pretty photos online and save them then upload them as their own. Really! I know! You’d think people would know better, right? Not only is it likely a violation of copyright law (generally called copyright infringement) but it’s a clear violation of the Instagram Terms of Use and Community Guidelines. I won’t get in to whether or not a specific re-upload is covered under Copyright Fair Use because every situation is different and there are too many fact-specific scenarios to give a definitive response.

According to the Instagram Terms of Use users agree only to post images (or videos) that comply with all laws, including copyright law.

Instagram Terms of ServiceInstagram’s Community Guidelines specifically say not to share photos or videos that aren’t yours. Yet, we see it all the time. Sure, maybe some have received permission but I’m not so sure about that. Maybe a photographer doesn’t mind someone else posting their work without giving any attribution, making it seem like the Instagrammer is the one who took the photo. Passing off someone else’s work as your own is called plagiarism and isn’t illegal so, it may pass muster. But, ethically, it’s a problem. And, honestly, in reality how many photographers do you know who’d say “sure, go ahead and post my photo but don’t worry about giving me credit”. If you can think of one, let me know so I can talk to him or her.

Even more puzzling to me is the fact that there are apps that pull the Instagram API and are specifically for reposting other people’s content without having to obtain their express authorization. Does it matter? To many people, yes it does matter because these apps are enabling users to violate US copyright law almost every time the app is used.

The apps are usually pulling images using the Instagram API, so there is some tacit agreement between Instagram and the various users. In addition, at least most of these apps give credit to the original user, which is better than nothing. However, adding the user’s name to the image doesn’t absolve the person reposting from potential liability for copyright infringement if the app is not compliant. At least there is a way to identify the potential copyright holder. I find it interesting that the repost does not always tag the original user, making it difficult for the original user to track potentially infringing uses.

What’s the big deal, you ask? In reality, for some people nothing. For others, though, the big deal is that their work is being stolen. Unfortunately, technology, law, and reality aren’t always so in sync. Will someone really want to pay to sue someone over an alleged copyright violation on Instagram? Perhaps. I know of professional photographers who’ve had their images used by major magazines on Instagram and have requested payment, and got it. I also know of people who’ve filed DMCA takedowns and had Instagram accounts suspended.

I also know people who are incessantly harassed by other Instagram users and their followers if they ask to have their copyrighted image taken down. It’s not always for an extraordinary or exceptional image either. I’ve seen users grab images of another user’s Starbucks, dessert, tech devices, and much more. Most don’t give any attribution, but they’re found anyway.

Should we care about getting permission or giving attribution for Instagram photos or videos? I think so. Besides being the law, it’s the polite thing to do. Every day I get emails from people who are being billed for using, without permission, someone else’s photo. I also get emails from people whose images are used without permission asking what they should do. Obviously, this is a problem. On both sides.

So, what to do?

First, don’t upload images you didn’t take or don’t have permission to use. Besides it being a violation of the Instagram Terms of Use and Community Guidelines, it’s illegal.

Second, if you do get permission, give attribution so it’s clear to someone else these are not your photos. As the copyright holder how attribution should be given. On Instagram it might be simple enough to add the username to the image, but tagging the person may be more helpful so they can track the sharing of their work.

Third, don’t repost using a third-party app unless you have permission from the user to repost their images. These apps make it so easy to violate the Instagram Terms of Use and Community Guidelines, as well as infringe the copyright of another user.

Finally, don’t crop out someone’s watermark. We call it a watermark but the US Copyright Act calls it Copyright Management Data and provides for what is essentially a fast track to damages for copyright holders. While the biggest challenge may be actually finding someone, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) if you can show the alleged infringer removed or altered your copyright information and used your work in an unauthorized manner you may recover damages which start at $2,500 and go up to $25,000 and allow for recovery of attorney’s fees as well as damages related to the infringement.

So, there you have it. The basics of copyright and attribution on Instagram are easy to follow. Just upload images or videos you take or create, or share those you’re given permission to share and you’re good to go!

What’s your experience with copyright and attribution using Instagram?

By | 2014-01-15T06:00:17-07:00 January 15th, 2014|Copyright, Instagram, Social Media|93 Comments


  1. […] Hawkins, S, 2014, Copyright and Attribution on Instagram, viewed 24 March 2014, […]

  2. David Shaner March 27, 2014 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Hey Sara, great and informative article. I wonder what you think of how Ness uses/cites instagram photos ( If you look carefully, you’ll see the cover photos for all their restaurants come from Instagram (likely without the user’s explicit permission). Are they violating copyright? Other examples are Instagram aggregating services like Olapic that allow brands to use Instagram photos because of hashtag usage. All very gray in my opinion. Your thoughts?

    • Sara March 31, 2014 at 4:23 pm - Reply

      David, I’ll have to take a look at these site you mention as I am not familiar with them. I’m sure, though, both are covered under Safe Harbor laws by having a protocol in place to remove infringing photo.

  3. Joshua Crabbe March 31, 2014 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    Hey Sara,

    I was also curious about David’s question. Can you follow up?


    • Sara March 31, 2014 at 4:24 pm - Reply

      Joshua, I will have to look at both of the sites David mentioned to learn more about them and see if I can figure them out. Once I have an idea, I’ll report back.

  4. Shantan Banerjee April 16, 2014 at 8:22 am - Reply

    I’ve just realised that someone has been stealing and posting my pictures without my permission on his feed. I have filled up the copyright infringement form, but i’d like to know, whether my contact details are safe. Instagram has stated that it may divulge these details to the thief, but i’d like to know why they would do that? I’m not comfortable knowing that the thief might know my name and address, etc. Do u have any information on this?

    • Sara April 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm - Reply

      The DMCA requires those who file a takedown or counter-notice to provide their contact details. Instagram must follow the DMCA to remain protected under its Safe Harbor provisions. As such, they include language regarding disclosure of specific contact information they want. If you do not want to provide a mailing address you can always not submit it and allow the platform to determine if it is sufficient. You do not need to provide your home physical address, just an address at which you can be contacted. So, if you have a separate mailing address that will also be sufficient. Hope this helps.

  5. Nate April 20, 2014 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Hey, great article. Very informative. Just wondering, if you repost a video or photo with the original holder’s watermark is that still bad?

    • Sara April 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      Nate, thanks for the kind words. As for your question, any time you repost a copyrighed work for which you do not have permission or an acceptable exception (i.e., Fair Use) you may be infringing a copyright, regardless of whether there is a watermark. If you cut out the watermark of a copyrighted work, there may be additional damages awarded solely for the removal of what is known as copyright management data. With regard to video, if sharing the video through an appropriate sharing platform such as YouTube, the reposting of the video may be covered under the platform’s license permitting shares and embeds when done exclusively through the functionality of the platform.

      • Nate April 21, 2014 at 8:43 pm - Reply

        Awesome! Thank you so much! Does Instagram also count as that kind of sharing platform?

  6. Anne April 25, 2014 at 11:08 am - Reply

    So I’m hearing that if Instagram itself added a “reshare” button, similar to a Facebook share, that would then be acceptable?

    • Sara April 26, 2014 at 10:15 pm - Reply

      Yes, if Instagram has a “reshare” button and at the same time updated its Terms of Service regarding that, it’s possible sharing would be part of the sharing paradigm just as it is for platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Google+.

  7. Kaden April 26, 2014 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    There is a girl that has her pictures on instagram however they are of my 12 yer old son! We have asked her to remove them several times but she refuses to! Do we have the right to force her to remove them?

    • Sara April 26, 2014 at 10:14 pm - Reply


      If you’ve asked and the image hasn’t been changed you likely need to contact Instagram directly. If you took the photo then you likely own the copyright and can submit a copyright violation notice and ask for removal.

      To report copyright violation:

      To report if you don’t own the copyright:

      Hope this information is helpful.

      ~ Sara

      • Kaden April 27, 2014 at 9:30 am - Reply

        When we attempt to follow the selections they provide we do not see any options for the simple reason as to we as PARENTS do not want pictures of our minor child on any web site without our approval! We clicked on Photo/video and it then asks for reasons why but our reason is not one of the selections! Our child is a minor, it is her photograph but we asked her not to post pictures of him and she did it anyway and refuses to remove it!

  8. Colette April 29, 2014 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    I’ve only recently gotten active on Instagram, and it’s such a different experience for me. I’ve *barely* gotten to the point of being OK with pictures of mine being reposted as long as credit is given. And I have started to feature others inspired by me if they use my hatchtag (which, while the profile section doesn’t leave room for a lot of legal wording, I feel is pretty much giving permission or even asking me to use their content), with credit and the picture tagged to them.

    There are 2 things I really wonder though – first being, how many copyright complaints does it take to have someone suspended or terminated on Instagram? I’m big enough on other platforms – YouTube, Blogger, Facebook – that people recognize my work & will tag me to let me know when someone is using my content wihtout credit. I’ve sent in quite a few copyright infringement notices, but the users are still up (with content stolent from others). Second, which is more speculation, is how long it will take for the music industry to start cracking down. Almost every 15-second video clip is accompanied by popular music, in most cases I’m guessing without permission. Coming from YouTube, which is a lot more strict, it just baffles me that the big names haven’t already taken action.

  9. Rah S. May 9, 2014 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Hi Sara,

    I have a question regarding using music in Instagram Videos. I’ve seen a few posts of videos with music added / edited over the recording. Doesn’t this go against copyright law as well, when music is added to videos?

    Your feedback would be appreciated.

    • Sara May 15, 2014 at 9:31 am - Reply

      Rah, music included on Instagram video is no different that music included on any other platform when it comes to copyright. While YouTube has an algorithm that it uses to detect music and compare it to a database of information to screen for potential copyright violations it’s not clear Instagram uses anything similar. Under the IG TOS/T&C, users are put on notice that they must own the copyright or have legal permission to use copyrighted works which they upload. Music is included in this. While there may be some Fair Use claims, if copyrighted music is used and the copyright holder objects, the DMCA takedown process is one possibility to explore.

      Thanks for your question,

  10. hazen May 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    I have a question, Sara, I came upon a nail page the other day, the person clearly stated that they weren’t the owner of any of the photos posted, is that still considered copyright simply because they did not attribute the tag to the person who actually did the nail art? thank you so much for answering my question!

    • Sara May 21, 2014 at 8:47 pm - Reply

      Any time a copyright work is shared without authorization there is a likelihood of copyright infringement. If there is a Fair Use exception then the infringement is considered to be outweighed by the need to share the information. Few instances of Fair Use will likely exist for Instagram shares, but it’s difficult to say what the situation is with the page you’re referencing. Tagging or not tagging is not relevant to copyright. Tagging may be done if someone has the authorization and wants to provide appropriate attribution to overcome a question of plagiarism. But, not tagging a copyrighted work brings about a number of different concerns. For someone posting images for which they state they are not the owner, but they don’t provide information as to whether they have authorization from the owner, or even who the owner is, could be an Instagram TOS violation, a copyright issue, as well as raise plagiarism concerns.

  11. Adi May 28, 2014 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    Hi dear,
    I have made a web page where i repost photos of celebrities from their instagrams.
    What should i do to give credits to every user? Should i link these photos to the user? should i write “all credit to beyonce” for example?

    At the end i dont think that beyonce will issue me about this repost but i want that my page looks as much as “right”. Please give me any advice

    Thank You for Your time.

    • Sara May 28, 2014 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      The following is for informational purposes only and is not offered as legal advice.

      There are two issues here, copyright and publicity rights. Celebrities, unless taking a selfie, are not likely the copyright holder of the photo. The copyright likely belongs to the photographer (or the agency the photographer works for). Unless your use would fall under an exception to copyright laws, regardless of who you credit you would likely be infringing on someone’s copyright.

      As for the celebrities publicity rights, there are laws that give rights to individuals that allow them to control the use of their image. This is especially true for commercial uses. Any image of a person should be used with caution, especially if that person is a celebrity.

      • Adi May 28, 2014 at 2:26 pm - Reply

        than there is no hope for my page. I forgot to mention that i am reposting only public photos.

        what if i claim that i will use instagram API for reposting?

        “Comply with any requirements or restrictions imposed on usage of User Content by their respective owners. Remember, Instagram doesn’t own User Content – Instagram users do. Although the Instagram APIs can be used to provide you with access to User Content, neither Instagram’s provision of the Instagram APIs to you nor your use of the Instagram APIs override User Content owners’ requirements and restrictions, which may include “all rights reserved” notices (attached to User Content by default when uploaded to Instagram), Creative Commons licenses or other terms and conditions that may be agreed upon between you and the owners. In ALL cases, you are solely responsible for making use of User Content in compliance with owners’ requirements or restrictions.”

        “Comply with any other terms and conditions a user has attached to his or her User Content. For example, if a user marks a photo as “private” after using your service, your application must reflect those changes as soon as reasonably possible. If your application has any cached copies of User Content that has become “private,” you must remove such User Content as soon as reasonably possible.”

  12. Dominic June 5, 2014 at 10:29 am - Reply

    I just made an Instagram account and I will be posting basketball memes and pictures, some of which I will take from the Internet, but only from certain sources. If I mention the name of the source like NBA or ESPN could I still get sued? I need an answer fast! Thanks

    • Sara June 7, 2014 at 9:28 am - Reply


      Mentioning the source of the image only protects against a plagiarism claim, not copyright. Unless there is a valid exception, unauthorized use of another person’s copyrighted work is copyright infringement. Could you get sued? It’s always a possibility.

  13. Charlie-Helen Robinson July 2, 2014 at 2:25 am - Reply

    Hi there Sara, I am wondering what your views are in relation to the sharing of an instagram image link (Instagram provide the copy share link) – ie so the user is sent back to the content source itself from where you post it – and whether that is still wrong.

  14. Slovi July 9, 2014 at 7:58 am - Reply

    Hi Sara,

    What about images that are hashtagged with your company brand? That you own and operate.

    e.g. #americanairlines ? Can AA republish these without prior consent? And is there a difference if the republishing of said photos is in digital form or print form?

    Thank you for a great blogpost.

    • Sara Hawkins July 9, 2014 at 9:46 am - Reply

      Slovi, great question. A hashtag was created as a way to search certain terms. While they have evolved, a hashtag is nothing more than a specific identifier of a brand, a phrase, or even just random thoughts. A hashtag is not the equivalent of a legal authorization to do anything with your copyrighted work.

      But, your question isn’t so simple.

      You asked: e.g. #americanairlines ? Can AA republish these without prior consent? – when you say “republish” there are different ways to define that word. Under a platform’s Terms of Service users may obtain a license to “share” the content (i.e., a RT on Twitter, a Reblog on Tumblr, a Share on Facebook) using the platform’s functionality. Third party sharing services that allow reposting may not legally have permission from the copyright owner, but are using an API to gain access. Those apps may or may not be legally compliant, but most that I’ve seen do attempt to provide appropriate attribution. But, attribution is not permission. When republish means “embed” that may also be a licensed feature of the platform (embedding tweets and videos from YouTube come to mind) that users grant. If republish means downloading the image and posting it on the same platform or in any other form, that is where copyright holders tend to find their rights being infringed.

      And is there a difference if the republishing of said photos is in digital form or print form? – In some ways, as I’ve describe above, yes there is a difference. However, taking a digital image and using it in print form without authorization is where a copyright holder is most likely to discover infringement of their work.

      Hope this helps. ~ Sara

  15. Tara July 9, 2014 at 11:06 am - Reply

    How about sites like the Daily mail or (gossip) magazines like Now, US weekly and others who seem to be using a lot of Instagram pics these days?

  16. Nìjaeri July 13, 2014 at 7:13 am - Reply

    I’m not into re-posting photos that are not credited to the original author. However, a huge basis of social media is to SHARE. I can click on any instagram photo and share it to one of my profiles. Instagram was created and purposed for spontaneous everyday photos – although some of us who don’t “turn up” as much use it more practically – (for business objectives) – but that isn’t its purpose and those photos should be for your website & clearly marked with a copyright notice so that people will know & be accountable. (Copyright) Context is everything. Instagram is a platform specifically for SHARING photos you want others to see, have, comment on etc…. Just like Twitter, FB, and all the others which often get re-posted all across the web. Unless it’s your face that someone obviously shouldn’t be putting on t-shirts and randomly making income from if, its a creative work restricted from personal or commercial use (besides the owner’s), it should simply be stated. And that is my opinion about the whole Google library as well. Every photo that is not available for public use – should state the copyright information – it should be a defined field – available in all search results. The average browser has no reason to understand copyright laws – its there on the net easily downloadable – another fault of Google – If Instagram can block downloading an image SO CAN GOOGLE.

  17. Limor hacohen July 18, 2014 at 2:41 am - Reply

    Hello Sara , great article . It’s good to know people take the time for a good causes to help clueless people like me 🙂 I have a question I’m not sure this is the address to ask it, nevertheless I’ll try . I opened my instagram account about a year ago, I just fell in love with this platform allowing me, an amature photographer, to share my work. since then I posted almost 200 of my best photos. Only now, starting to accumulate more and more followers that I start worrying about my legal rights… I wanted to know if it is possible, if there’s even a way to add a watermark signature (using any of the watermark apps) on already existing photos ?? It’s easy uploading a new photo to instagram with the watermark , but the tricky thing I didn’t manage finding is, adding it on my existing photos in my gallery. Would really appreciate your help ! Thanks a lot , Limor.

  18. Michael January 3, 2017 at 8:40 pm - Reply


    Very informative article and quite an eye opener. I wanted to ask your opinion, in regards to copyright material, specifically on Instagram. If a celebrity has posted a candid photograph of themselves, in their own home, in front of a painting they’ve purchased, which hangs on the wall behind them – OR – they post a photograph of a product their company manufacturers, includes a link for followers to purchase that product; and, in the background is a painting they purchased and hung on their wall, to which the painter received no credit nor gave permission for the use; would this a) constitute as an advertisement b) infringe on the rights of the painter c) is the celebrity liable for any copyright infringement? Just wondering.


    • Sara Hawkins January 4, 2017 at 12:05 pm - Reply

      Hi Michael, thanks for the great comment. This scenario happens much more often than most people realize. The difficulty is that there is no one answer because the situation is fact-specific. In one instance there may be a viable Fair Use claim for the infringement while in another there is not. In addition, one judge may see the use as merely part of the background and not infringing while another will see the use as incidental to the principle subject or object of the photo and finds the use of the copyrighted image significant enough to be infringing.

      For artists/photographers whose works are in the background of posts on commercial social media accounts, speaking with a copyright lawyer is suggested so the copyright holder can determine what rights and/or actions can be taken. For works that are registered, the benefits from the registration often allow for taking action when otherwise pursuing the alleged infringement may not be possible.

      Copyright issues are often intensely fact specific that while a general perspective of ‘copyrighted work in the background generally does not require permission for use’ is true, it’s not always wholly applicable to every situation.

      Hope this helps!

  19. Daniel January 4, 2017 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Hello, I am hoping you can clarify something for me. Sharing is encouraged on almost all social media accounts “Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Google Plus etc.
    This is allowable due to the TOS. Thus I share a lot of peoples photos on my numerous accounts.

    Although Instagram does not allow you to repost specifically, it does allow you to share the photo to Facebook.

    The TOS for Instagram is almost the same as Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

    Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy.

    So given that reposter programs use the official API, would it not fall under the same TOS that allows me to share an Instagram Photo to Facebook?

    • Sara Hawkins January 18, 2017 at 10:04 am - Reply

      Daniel, you are correct that the social media platforms obtain a broad license, which include allowing other users or those who have authorized access to the content via the API, to allow for further distribution of the content. If using a built-in platform functionality (RT, Share, Repost, Reblog, etc.) an authorized user can share another user’s content without risk of copyright infringement because of the license grant in agreeing to the Terms. With regard to third-party use via an API the Terms associated with the API may have limitations regarding use so they align with the rights-grant in the Terms for the different user groups. A third-party platform (for example Hootsuite, Social Sprout, and repost apps) that uses the platform API has to agree to comply with the Terms associated with obtaining API access. If the use by the third-party platform exceeds the authorized license granted in connection with access to the API the platform/app would not be protected by the platform’s license and could expose them to liability. However, the third-party platform or app may have additional Terms which need to be reviewed. Not all Terms are written by knowledgeable attorneys who understand how the technology works or what path information will flow and, as such, there are Terms that are poorly written or are the result of a cut/paste job and do not specifically address the platform.

      In the end, because of the API functionality a platform user could easily find their post on seemingly-unauthorized third-party locations without having recourse.

      Hope this helps!

  20. Jeremy January 6, 2017 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    As part of the TOS for Facebook and Instagram, do we surrender our copyright to the service so that they can use it as they see fit (in marketing, other feeds, etc.)?

    • Sara Hawkins January 18, 2017 at 9:41 am - Reply

      Jeremy, as part of the Instagram Terms of Use and Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities both clearly state that the platform does not obtain copyright from users. Both, however, do obtain a very broad and sweeping license for use of posts and uploads for their users. While broad and sweeping, the license does have some limitations.

  21. Lorraine February 4, 2017 at 9:00 am - Reply

    I want to post videos of me dancing to a certain song e.g. run up by major lazer but my video was deleted by insta because I used that specific song. I’m not trying to steal their song or anything. …just dance to it
    what do I do?

    • Sara Hawkins February 7, 2017 at 9:36 am - Reply

      If you believe that you have rights to the music, Instagram has a notification appeal process. Usually, there is a link ‘Appeal’ in the notification. However, if you state that you have rights but do not, solely in an attempt to get the video publishes, there could be significant consequences.

      • Matt April 13, 2017 at 9:58 am - Reply

        How can you find out if you have rights? I made a family video and put it to a James Taylor song that I bought and gave him full credit of course. But I do not have specific permission from him or whoever deals with his music copyrights, so that means I can still be in trouble?

        • Sara Hawkins June 3, 2017 at 9:26 am - Reply

          Purchasing a CD, music download, or any other format of a song is only a license for certain types of uses of the song. Even if you physically purchased a CD or record, that does not transfer any copyright rights beyond the right to listen to the music for your own enjoyment and to re-sell that physical CD or record. All music downloads are managed with a license for personal use. When you say ‘family video’, it’s unclear what you mean. If, for example, you’re creating a video for grandma & grandpa’s 50th wedding anniversary party and you’ve set a series of photos to music and you’re only sharing the video with friends and family at the celebration the license that comes with the music will likely cover that personal use. However, if that video is then uploaded to the internet you would have to determine if the license extended to that use.

          As for giving credit, that’s a plagiarism issue. And while many people would likely recognize a James Taylor song, providing credit removes any doubt regarding your intent to claim any status as creator of the work.

  22. Bud February 8, 2017 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Hi Sara,
    Let me begin by saying that I am a big fan of this brilliant article, I am a big fan. 🙂 My question goes about certain websites that post celebrity photos direct from Instagram. One I could cite would be one of my favorites: I One article would be which is titled 10+ Times Chris Hemsworth Was The World’s Best Dad. These photos are taken from Chris Hemsworth’s wife Elsa Pataky’s Instagram account. So in this article, the writer displays 10+ photos taken straight from Elsa Pataky’s IG, it’s not embedded or linked straight to her IG BUT there is a part at the bottom of each photo that links to Elsa Pataky’s IG. With that all that was said in this article about asking for “permission” from the owner of the photo, do you honesty believe that it is at all possible to get “permission” from Elsa Pataky herself, or any other celebrities to have their photos displayed on a website?

    • Sara Hawkins February 9, 2017 at 10:22 pm - Reply

      I get this questions quite a bit, Bud. Did Bored Panda get permission? I don’t know. Is it possible, sure? Did they buy access to the API from Instagram? That’s possible, although then I’d expect the image url to be that of Instagram. Would they attempt to claim Fair Use if they were sued? Perhaps. Many of these sites consider themselves to be ‘news’ sites. But the likelihood of being sued for copyright if the image is not registered may be worth risking to the site. It’s probably annoying to the celebrity but at some point they just have to pick and choose their battles and not waste their resources fighting.

      • Adam November 1, 2017 at 11:19 am - Reply

        Hi Sara,
        very interesting post! But what if I embed photos in my website? Is that legal? And can I then post it on facebook?


        • Sara Hawkins November 8, 2017 at 2:31 pm - Reply

          Embedding photos is an interesting concept because not all sites provide embed codes. Sites that do provide embed codes usually have an appropriate license for that type of share in its terms and conditions. Creating one’s own embed code may come with risk if there is not an appropriate license or legal reason that would overcome copyright infringement. Hyperlinking and framing as related to copyright infringement are complex legal issues that do not have clear yes/no answers to whether something is or is not an infringement unless there is an accompanying license granted for the use of that specific feature.

  23. Todd White February 12, 2017 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    Hello…I was curious if the same tool that YouTube has to check popular songs and their allowable use also applies to Instagram? I am referring to the Music Policies search area on YouTube. If it is cleared for worldwide play BUT not monetization on YouTube then can i use it on IG as well?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Sara Hawkins February 15, 2017 at 2:21 pm - Reply

      YouTube is owned by Google/Alphabet while Instagram is owned by Facebook. While both employ technical algorithms for evaluating copyright, permitted use on one platform does not mean that use is permitted anywhere else. A song that is cleared through YouTube’s process is subject to the terms of use for that platform only.

      • Hillary April 3, 2017 at 5:58 pm - Reply

        So can I post a music video from YouTube on instagram but say the song and who sang it

        • Sara Hawkins April 11, 2017 at 1:02 am - Reply

          If Instagram allows you to post a video from Youtube that post must comply with the Instagram Terms of Service. If that video is not yours and you do not have permission there could be liability for copyright infringement. You likely need to do more research to determine if you would be in violation of IG TOS and/or if your use would be copyright infringement. If you’re not sure, you should speak with an attorney knowledgeable in this subject area.

  24. Joanna April 19, 2017 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    Hi Sara,

    Thank you for the great article! My question has to do with quoting people on Instagram, without using their images.

    If someone posted an image and rave review for my product, may I quote the words only in my marketing materials/website/Amazon?

    • Sara Hawkins June 3, 2017 at 10:03 am - Reply

      Companies should never use reviews for which they do not have either explicit written permission or permission granted through agreement to terms of service/use of the website on which the review is provided. Lifting consumer reviews of the company’s product or service from a third party website likely does not give the company sufficient permission to use the review. Individuals have the right to control how their name, likeness, opinions, etc. are used, and use without permission can create unintended liability for the company.

  25. Katie April 22, 2017 at 4:41 am - Reply

    Hi Sara – thanks for posting this informative article!

    Do you see any issues with posting photos on Instagram that have been licensed via Creative Commons? For example, a Flickr user has uploaded a photo and licensed it under CC 2.0, which allows others to share the material as long attribution is given. Interpreting the license at face value, this seems OK to me.

    However, I see two issues that could arise:
    1. The photo owner didn’t realize what rights they were waiving when they designated the photo as CC 2.0.
    2. The owner changes the photo to be Copyrighted after I’ve already shared their photo. Am I obligated to be constantly checking their license to ensure I still have a right to share that photo?


    • Sara Hawkins June 3, 2017 at 10:19 am - Reply

      Katie, you present excellent questions.

      1. So long as the copyright holder or authorized agent is the one who authorized the work under CC 2.0, unless they can prove that they were somehow legally incompetent to make that designation not understanding what the license means does not relieve them from having licensed the image as designated. That’s why it’s important to understand what these licenses allow.

      2. Creative Commons licenses are irrevocable for past valid uses. Many people do not read the license they are granting and don’t realize that once they license an image for a specific purpose, any valid use under that license can not be revoked. The licensee (the one granting the license) can change their mind and stop distributing the work under a CC license but in accordance with Creative Commons, all valid prior uses remain valid. Users can choose to comply with the change but they don’t have to.

    • Jennifer C C Carter June 10, 2018 at 10:10 am - Reply

      Regardless if they let you use their property in creative commons, you still have to give them credit for their work. And you also cannot monetize on their works. Creative Commons license is for personal use and you always always have to CITE your source. Common things you learn in COLLEGE! Always CITE your source, even if you have permission!!!!

      • Sara Hawkins June 10, 2018 at 10:24 am - Reply

        The details of Creative Commons can be found in my article Creative Commons Licenses Explained in Plain English: . Every Creative Commons license requires attributions. Also, disregard the statement above that Creative Commons licenses are for personal use as that is false. In fact, there are a number of Creative Commons licenses that allow for commercial use. As for always citing your source even if you have permission, that is not always true. Many licenses do not require attribution and, in fact, most stock photo licenses do not require attribution. While citing your source may be required in many instances for college work, outside of academia citation may not be required. Knowing what is required of the license is very important.

  26. Nina May 14, 2017 at 5:52 am - Reply


    I would like to make an instagram profile with copy photos from a diferent clothing sites ( with a tag of that site and the official instagram profile ). Can I do that on my own, or do I still need the permission to use a photo with source ? Just to be sure that I had understood everything. Thank you on Your time!

    Best Regards,

    • Sara Hawkins June 3, 2017 at 10:35 am - Reply

      Adding a source is a plagiarism issue, which is the US is not a legal matter. Use of any copyrighted images on IG for which you do not own the copyright or have permission to use would be governed by US Copyright laws as well as copyright laws for other countries, if applicable. If your use fits an exception (such as Fair Use) to copyright your use may be permissible. If you are unsure whether you specific use is permissible you may want to discuss this matter further with someone knowledgeable in this area.

  27. Alex Jackvil May 17, 2017 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    Hey Sara, great article. What about if an agency alters a photo taken of another model? What rights do a photographer have or the model at the time of discovery? Meaning can the agency be sued right away or A message to be sent to the agency requesting it to be taken down and if it’s not taken down then actions will occur after. Amazing help and person you are!

    • Sara Hawkins June 1, 2017 at 11:23 am - Reply

      There is no requirement that an alleged infringer be given notice of the infringement. While there is a particular process for digital media under the DMCA, that does not preempt rights under the US Copyright Act. The model may have separate rights with regard to alteration and/or of his/her likeness that is actionable separate from any copyright claim. Both of these issues should be evaluated with an attorney who knowledgeable in these areas to determine what rights exist and the best strategy to pursue any claims that may be available.

  28. Tony July 11, 2017 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Hi Sara,
    A local tour company shared one of their Instagram account. They tagged me and gave me credits in the description. When they claimed that my photo was not used to promote their tours but the region where we live and that they were trying to help me by giving me exposure since they have over 15k followers and I have less than a 500.

    They deleted the photo as soon as I contacted them, then I proceeded to send them an invoice but was ignored so far. My question is, can I proceed legally so they pay me for reposting my photo without my permission?

    • Sara Hawkins July 16, 2017 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      Unauthorized use of a copyrighted image is actionable. There may be defenses, such as Fair Use, but those are legal defenses and would need to be raised by the defendant. The legal process for copyright infringement is costly, but if the image had been registered or applied for registration prior to the infringement there may be support for suing.

  29. Daya Chitta July 20, 2017 at 7:59 am - Reply

    Hi, very useful article, thanks.

    I am an artist and recently exhibited work as part of a group exhibition, which was organised by the art college we all attended.
    A relative of one of the other artists took photos of the event, including some after asking me to pose in front of my work.
    The photographer acted as though he was the official photographer for the event, but it turned out that this was not the case.
    Subsequently I was given a link to Dropbox where he had stored the photos, but told that he considered these photos copyrighted. If I had known that he would copyright them, I would not have given him permission to take them and would have done so myself.

    If I post his photos on my own social media or on IG will I be breaking copyright laws?

    Many thanks.

    • Sara Hawkins July 23, 2017 at 7:52 pm - Reply

      Hello Daya,

      This is a rather complicated question because the photographer may not have had permission to take photos at an event that otherwise limited the taking of photographs. If there is a law school nearby or part of your college, contact one of the copyright law professors and see if they would help you.

  30. Bob August 19, 2017 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    What about reposting (with attribution) an instagram photo that was tagged with a specific unique phrase like #sitenameBlah ? Is that enough to repost?

    • Sara Hawkins August 30, 2017 at 9:54 am - Reply

      I recently discussed this briefly on a webshow called Behind the Domain. Use of a hashtag is not likely sufficient authorization to a third party to use your copyrighted work. I have seen brands post in their bio that use of a specific hashtag is authorization for them to use your image. Once someone decides to litigate that question, it will certainly be something to watch. Right now, though, there is no legal precedence to establish consent simply from use of a hashtag.

  31. Kalei November 7, 2017 at 1:00 am - Reply

    Hello. Is there anything in legal terms about posting pictures of someone else’s child without permission, even if that person took that photo? Thank you.

    • Sara Hawkins November 8, 2017 at 3:46 pm - Reply

      Generally, it’s legal to take photos of other people’s children without parental consent. Of course there are exceptions, the most significant being privacy. The right to privacy extends to children so taking photos of children in a place where individuals have the right to privacy (for example a bedroom, bathroom, perhaps a private home) raises significant privacy concerns. In addition, there are places where photos of children are prohibited by the administrators, such as schools and daycare centers. Further, there are limitations on how the photo may be used because of the legal right to publicity.

      Taking photos of other people’s children is often controversial because of the reasons I’ve mentioned. However, in addition to those reasons there may be security concerns that others don’t know about which could put the child at risk if the photos are published online with location tagging or other types of tagging.

      It is always advised to use caution when taking photos of children that are not your own.

  32. Meysam Madadi November 7, 2017 at 1:37 am - Reply

    Dear Freind
    My account has been disabled for not following the Instagram Community Guidelines and copyrights law
    How i can do for reactive it?

    • Sara Hawkins November 8, 2017 at 2:32 pm - Reply

      Unfortunately I can’t help you. Often Instagram will explain the reason and how to get your account back.

  33. Z13 November 11, 2017 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Hey, is it ok if I use someone’s art (that she drew to make into a video) to make it into a video with adding some singer ‘s song? Is it copyright violation if I made the video but the content isnt mine?

    • Sara Hawkins November 16, 2017 at 8:16 pm - Reply

      US Copyright law provides copyright holder with the exclusive right to create derivative works. Creating a video out of other copyrighted materials may fall under the derivative works laws. However, there are exceptions. You’d want to do further research to determine if your specific video content is or is not covered.

      • Thth November 18, 2017 at 3:28 pm - Reply

        I have recorded clips of songs ,which was permitted by the performer, of not more than 35 seconds each, at a concert. Can I legally post one of these video clips on instagram? Thanks much!

        • Sara Hawkins November 25, 2017 at 9:30 am - Reply

          Is the performer also the copyright holder of the underlying song composition? If so, you may have received permission for both the sound recording and the underlying composition, which are two separate copyright questions. The next question would be, if you don’t have permission for both parts then you need to look at whether there are any exceptions to copyright infringement, such as Fair Use.

          Many people don’t realize that with music there are separate copyrights for the composition and the sound recording. Also, many people think the performer has the right to grant permission, which would not be true unless that is the same person who holds the copyright to the composition and sound recording.

          Who would have thought that something so simple would have a number of complex legal parts? This is another example of the complexity of copyright law as it pertains to music.

          • Thth November 28, 2017 at 9:53 am

            Thank you so much for your response, Sara!
            I’m concluding that the length of the clip is not relevant.

            In this case, the performer is the composer and holds both copyrights. How does the fact that © and (p) are under exclusive license with a recorded music company impact this?

          • Sara Hawkins January 19, 2018 at 10:43 am

            The length of the video clip is relevant when used in determining Fair Use. If the other elements of Fair Use support that claim but the length of the clip use does not, it’s possible that Fair Use would fail. However, if there is no Fair Use (or other exception) argument, then the amount of the work used is irrelevant.

            If a copyright holder has given exclusive rights to one party then those same rights can’t be given to another without breach.

            This actually demonstrates how complicated copyright rights can be when the copyright owner has licensed certain rights, but perhaps not all.

        • Vanessa Lango January 28, 2018 at 11:04 pm - Reply

          Hi Sara, my question goes along with the music angle…I am an artist and take process videos of me creating the work. I edit the video and will add music to the video that is not mine. In my caption I will always put “music credit goes to so and so”. Instagram typically flags till it and then reviews and puts the video back up. Am I within the legal rights as long as I put in the caption who the music is by?

          • Sara Hawkins April 25, 2018 at 11:43 am

            Providing attribution is not the same as having the legal right to use the music. Instagram has incorporated a process to evaluate music because the company, as part of Facebook, has access to licensed music and Instagram is undertaking this review to keep themselves from liability but not necessarily the user from liability.

            It’s different on YouTube, though, which has made a catalogue of licensed music available to users. By using music from the available library, users are ensured that their use of the included music is not infringing.

  34. AM November 27, 2017 at 12:04 am - Reply

    Hi Sarah,
    Like your article, understood a lot of things for the first time. Well, I have a very new IG account, where I used to post and re-share stuff. My Question here is if I put a line “Credit: @accountORusername” of the media owner name, does this fulfill the permission or it has to be a request in an email or messaging via IG.

    I recently have come across such an experience when I reposted a Video clip that was also re-shared by a user from another IG account that originally owned by another Bigger Account owner which have Millions of follower. I have been messaged to Delete the Video as copyright claim and I did so. Then I looked back how come another person has shared that video and I can not,
    I noticed the word, Credit:@AccountName and that’s all.

    Please guide me if sharing original Account owners username in the post and tagging kind of does the Job of acknowledging the Owner, because I am so afraid not to get my account Blocked (laughed)

    Thank you, appreciate any or all help,

    • Sara Hawkins December 21, 2017 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      Providing attribution does not affect whether or not there is an infringement. It can be part of the determination of what, if any, exceptions may be available if there is an infringement but attribution alone does not equal permission with respect to copyright infringement.

  35. Sazzad December 28, 2017 at 11:48 am - Reply

    I was looking for such an intelligent post . Really appreciating .

  36. […] Copyright and Attribution on Instagram […]

  37. Astrid P May 3, 2018 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    If I want to share videos of my daughter dancing to popular artists like Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, what should I do so I do not infringe copyright?

    • sara August 12, 2018 at 2:09 pm - Reply

      This question is really beyond the scope of this comment section as the “what should I do” really is to not share the videos unless you have a legal right to all content used in the video, though I think you’re really wondering how you can share them without risk of infringement or in violation of platform rules where you post them. Unfortunately, all major platforms have algorithms and technology that scans for audio and determines if the use could be a potential violation of copyright law and will prevent the upload initially or later identify the video as a violation. At this time, the law regarding use of copyrighted music has not caught up with how technology has easily allowed for what could be an infringing use.

  38. Elizabeth Quinlan May 15, 2018 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Does it violate copyright law to post someone else’s contemporary full length poem on instagram with attribution?

    • Sara Hawkins May 18, 2018 at 1:32 pm - Reply

      Most likely it does. Unless you know the work is in the public domain or covered by license, posting a full-length work without permission, regardless of attribution, is pretty much the definition of copyright infringement. Attribution has nothing to do with whether something is infringement. Attribution goes to plagiarism.

  39. Lex May 31, 2018 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    This was a great post! Also, since it’s required to put a home adress and phone number in the copyright form, and it doesn’t say anywhere that these two assets of information are shown to the infringer, unlike the email provided—which they will see. Does that contact information stay confidential between me and Instagram?? Its super important and I’m very worried… I got the posts down though!

    • sara August 12, 2018 at 2:03 pm - Reply

      All information provided in a DMCA takedown or counter notice can be disclosed to the other party. If the receiving platform says they will only provide certain information, that is their protocol and they may later be required to disclose all information submitted. DMCA takedown and counter notices are submitted under penalty of perjury and in accordance with the DMCA may be released to the other party.

  40. Zachary Mark December 12, 2018 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Great post. Your info is very helpful. I am a newbie on Instagram (I am a small ecommerce business) and in trying to provide content, I am using illustrations created by others as good info for others to see. However, I am not claiming them as my own creation and I do not in any way make it look like they are endorsing my product – I am attributing to them via URL.

    It seems here like that may not be enough, though. If I understood your posts correctly, it appears I also need actual permission from the owner to even post them on Instagram? Thank you, you’re site is extremely informative!

    • sara January 15, 2019 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      Correct, even to use an image you would need permission unless your use is permitted by one of the exceptions to copyright infringement. There are, though, may artists who don’t mind if their work is shared by others as long as it is attributed to the artist. May even have share buttons on their websites. But, generally, the letter of the law states that use of a copyrighted work without permission or legal exception is infringement.

      Glad you found the information helpful.

  41. Saurabh Rawat February 12, 2019 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Hi Sara, really a helpful post. Thanks for sharing this article 5 years ago…these things also applied in current time. I wanted to ask 2 questions here.
    I have created a sports team fan account on Instagram. So basically I get pictures from Instagram only. Most of the time I tag the owner of the picture and give credit in caption as well. But most of the time I don’t know the source of the picture. Like I take the picture from the account who itself is using someone else’s picture. So what to do in such case if I don’t know the real owner/source of that image or video.??

    And second case is can I use pictures from Pinterest and Google? Is there a less chance to get copyright issue if I take pictures from other platforms?

    Please help 🙂

    • sara February 22, 2019 at 12:01 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the kind words. I’ll answer the easy question first. Where images are sourced has absolutely no bearing on copyright enforcement if the image is used outside that platform without using its sharing features. It’s one thing to share a photo from Pinterest to Twitter using its embedded share feature, because that is protected, generally, through the platform terms of use/service. There could be exceptions, but that’s the general rule. Saving/copying an image from one source and publicly posting it natively somewhere else is likely an infringing use. Again, general rule.

      Fan accounts are really tricky when they rely on using unlicensed third-party images. Especially when the use of an image does not provide attribution or perhaps provides attribution to the wrong person, that’s when things begin to get problematic. If you don’t have permission or authorization (such as through platform terms), there is always a risk of liability. And just because one person doesn’t mind doesn’t mean that others may not.

      Running a fan account can be a lot of fun, but it does come with some big questions that need answers.

  42. Saurabh Rawat February 12, 2019 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    Hi Sara, really a helpful post. Thanks for sharing this article 5 years ago…these things also applied in current time. I wanted to ask 2 questions here.
    I have created a sports team fan account on Instagram. So basically I get pictures from Instagram only. Most of the time I tag the owner of the picture and give credit in caption as well. But most of the time I don’t know the source of the picture. Like I take the picture from the account who itself is using someone else’s picture. So what to do in such case if I don’t know the real owner/source of that image or video.??

    And second case is can I use pictures from Pinterest and Google? Is there a less chance to get copyright issue if I take pictures from other platforms?

    Please help 🙂

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