Protecting Your Work on Social Media

Today, the potential to share still and motion images easily and in real time with a broad range of viewers is unparalleled in the history of communication. This is a complex and challenging environment and it is crucial that photographers understand how they can protect their images while still taking advantage of global marketing opportunities.

Important considerations:

  1. Be Strategic: Develop a plan that represents your visual brand. This will help you define and understand your markets and products in this rapidly changing environment. Determining precisely what you are “selling” will guide you to the social media channels that fit your business goals. New technologies and distribution models allow photographers to take on expanded roles. Look for opportunities to develop unique value added services such as leading a creative team, producing and distributing your own creative works and online publishing.
  2. Be Vigilant: Once you decide on a plan and look at the social media outlets that might work for you, don’t just click “ok” and agree to a site’s terms of use. It’s important to understand what you are giving away. In many cases, you may be giving others the right to use your work and generate revenue from it without your knowledge or monetary gain. Before posting your work, be aware, too, that the photos you are sharing freely today as part of your personal marketing campaign may be the work that a future client would want to license. By sharing that work, you may find it difficult or impossible to license exclusive rights to it in the future.
  3. Be Careful About Partnerships: It is important to understand the policies and culture of potential online partners. Look for companies that have positive and sustainable working relationships with photographers — and support them.
  4. Linking vs Uploading: One way to control and protect the work you share on third-party sites is to upload photos to your website or blog, and link to social media sites from there. In other words, publishing from a publication platform you control is safer than uploading your work directly. There is a danger in building your business on a platform that retains the right to change terms without notice or permission.
  5. Other Protections: Although not foolproof, in many cases adding metadata to your work can help protect your ownership. Watermarks can also be useful but should be done carefully. Overly bold and restrictive watermarks may distract from your images and turn away prospective clients. Finally, a best practice for photographers is to register images with the US Copyright office before publication.

Additional Information Sources

The Instagram Papers:

ASMP Guides:
Utilizing Social Media for your Business
Know Your Rights on Social Media

ASMP/PhotoShelter Guide to Copyright:

Automate watermarks using Lightoom:

PhotoShelter Guide to Facebook: