By Nancy Huang
Social media has made the act of sharing and reposting content as simple as clicking a button or adding a hashtag. This has in many ways changed the dynamic of marketing, allowing brands to tap into this user-generated content to amplify its marketing message and reach. Travel and hospitality brands especially benefit, as much of the content produced in this industry offers a visual feast on social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.
Despite the treasure trove of user-generated content, hospitality marketers still need to exercise caution before hitting that share button, especially when it comes to sharing photography on their social media feed. Copyrights still apply in social media, and many brands have found themselves in sticky situations when reposting content created by others.
So can your hotel share someone else’s photo on Instagram? The answer is tricky. Here are some guidelines to common copyright issues for social media marketers:
Can I repost someone’s photo on my own social feed or website?
Instagram is explicit in its terms of service that its users retain all copyrights to the photos they post, and also agree that any photos they post do not infringe upon the copyrights of others. In short, you aren’t allowed to take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own.
But what about if you give attribution? For many users, the assumption is that if you credit the original creator in your repost, you’re in the clear. Apps like Repost for Instagram and Insta Repost even make it easy to repost with credit, either in the form of a watermark or a link to the user handle in the caption.
Just giving credit, however, is not enough. Standard etiquette requires that you also ask for permission from the original creator. While most creators do not mind the sharing of their content as long as credit is given, be aware that many professional and hobbyist photographers may take a different view—especially if the photo is being used to sell products or services.
The easiest way to ask for permission is to leave a comment on the original post, or send a direct message to the original poster. Here’s an example from The Resort at Pelican Hill, which posted the following comment on this Instagram photo:
“Looks like a wonderful afternoon. We hope you enjoyed your stay-cation, @dorybeach and @kristi212. With your permission, @PelicanHillResort would be honored to share your photo in our social media communities and/ or websites. If you agree to our terms and conditions at pelicanhill.com/sm, please comment on this post with @PelicanHillResort #agree.”
Photo credit: dorybeach on Instagram
Other things to keep in mind, even when you do get permission:
Ensure that you’ve gotten permission from the original creator(s) of the work, not just the post. Marie Claire was publicly shamed by a photographer after reposting a photo of a hairstyle and giving primary credit to Bumble and Bumble, another publication that had reposted it on their own feed. (The hairstylist was also given credit, but not the photographer or model.) Avoid this situation by going straight to the original photographer to ask for permission.
Do not create derivative works without permission. Getting the content creator to say #yes or #agree does not give you free rein to do what you want with the photo, including editing, cropping, or adding filters to it. Take for example this post from photographer Max Leitner, which he found used on a brand’s site after being cropped and filtered. Best practice is to repost the original photo as the creator had intended it.
Photo credit: Max Leitner
Can I repost content from a social media contest I create?
Generally, the answer is yes—provided that you establish clear guidelines as to how you will use the photos. Instagram itself has guidelines on how to run promotions using their platform, as does Facebook and Snapchat.
In general, brands can protect themselves legally in such contests by 1) allowing the original creators to maintain all copyrights; 2) requiring that all entries into the contest do not infringe upon others’ copyrights (entrants cannot post others’ photos); and 3) allowing the brand itself the full rights to publish and use content in social media feeds, marketing materials, and advertising
Here’s an example of legal guidelines from Refinery29 and Teva from their #WanderFree contest in 2014:
When publishing your contest guidelines, make sure they are easily accessible online and always include a link to the page when promoting your contest. Also make it clear to users that by submitting a photo or using the designated hashtag that they agree to the terms.
Can I repost content from a specific hashtag?
This remains a gray area in social media. The shoe brand Crocs found itself in scrutiny after publishing an Instagram feed on its website using photos from a #Crocs hashtag. One photo showing a young 4-year-old girl wearing Crocs, posted by the girl’s mother with the hashtag, made its way onto the feed and subsequently on the website.
The mother reported that she had not been asked for permission to use the photo and was “weirded out” by the posting of the photo on the Crocs website. Later she received a request from the company, but did not respond.
When it comes to using content from hashtags, your marketing team should consider some of the following questions.
Is there implied consent? As opposed to explicit consent, where you ask the creator for permission to repost, implied consent means that a brand can reasonably assume that the person who posted the content intended for the brand to use it, and was aware of the brand’s intentions. For example, if you run a contest with a specially branded hashtag, or advertise in a campaign for fans to share their photos with you under a specific hashtag, you can likely assume implied consent. If you took the photos from a general hashtag (i.e. #hotels, #travel), you likely cannot assume implied consent.
Are you using the content or photos in an advertising campaign? If the photos collected will appear in an advertisement itself, such as a banner ad or billboard, then you will want to get explicit consent—not just from the content creator, but also from any subject that appears in the photograph (as part of publicity rights). However, it’s not as clear cut, for example, when you want to run a hashtag feed of content and place your ad within it (as in a Pinterest ad). Social media sharing platform TINT has a good explanation on how to navigate advertising legal issues with user-generated content.
Are there children in the photos? Brands should always tread carefully when it comes to republishing photos with children. Any website that knowingly collects personally identifiable information of children (photos arguably qualify) will be automatically subject to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as Coppa, in the United States. For all children under the age of 13, your company should get “verifiable parental consent” before using the image.
How do I deal with copyright complaints?
In general, if your hotel or travel brand makes it a general policy to ask for permission to repost photos, you should not run into many complaints. Most users will simply agree and be honored to have their photo shared. Occasionally you’ll run into users that say no.
If copyright issues arise regarding the photos or content you’ve already reposted, the best course of action is to apologize and remove the offending photo immediately. Alternatively, you can also find a fair price to compensate the creator for the work (especially if you have reposted a professional photographer’s work) and keep the repost as is. Whatever the solution, never waste your time arguing with others over your rights to repost—there’s thousands of others who are willing to share, so cut your losses and move on.
Set social media policies for your hotel
Whether you manage social media in-house or hire a third-party social media marketing agency, it’s always a good idea to establish rules and guidelines for the staff so that it’s clear what they can or cannot share on social platforms, and establish the conditions in which they must ask for permission to repost. Create templates for consent forms and contest rules to keep the legalese consistent.
A casual mistake by your community manager could spell legal or PR trouble for your hotel, so don’t leave room for ambiguity when it comes to your social media posts!