Who Owns My Photos

It has become clear as day that Social Media has now become an integral part of day-to-day communication in today’s society, for both brands and individuals. The ability to instantly share information to a wide network has made things much simpler, and on the other hand, a little more complicated too.

Being in a world where information and media is increasingly available through apps, publications and the sort, we never really ask ourselves who is the source of this information or media. This has now opened up a rather interesting topic in this digital world. Photos, blog pieces, heck, even a tweet – does it belong to you once it’s posted on a social media platform?

Imagine this not so far fetched scenario…
You post an image on a popular topic or event on your Instagram account and within a matter of hours, it goes viral or ends up as a meme. Who do you blame? The platform where you posted? The person who used your picture and never gave you the credit? A number of us have had this happen to us, both on a personal and professional level. Seeing as though we collaborate so often with freelancers and this topic is relevant to the average Joe, we took a brief look into what Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have to say when it comes to intellectual property on their respective platforms.

We should all take note that most social media platforms maintain that through the use of their services, you allow and give them permission to use your information for advertising purposes or to improve and develop their services to cater to your interests. So in other words, the platform has the right to use your content, and not everyone else. Interestingly enough, only a few of them will protect you if someone steals your content and uses it as their own. All three platforms advise users to first make contact with the perpetrator involved in any infringement claims, before taking it up with them.

Instagram clearly state in their Terms of Use that when you sign up, you agree that your content will be non-confidential and nonproprietary, also, Instagram is not responsible for and will not be liable for the use or disclosure of your content. They do well to provide you with a place to report intellectual property infringement claims and similar claims. Since they have provided you with certain tools to manage who views your profile (i.e. private account), Instagram is basically saying “You post the content, it’s on you to protect it.”

Much like Instagram, Twitter’s Terms of Use (point 5) also attain that you as the user are responsible for the content you provide as well as the consequences that come with it, including the use of your content by other users or Twitter’s third party partners. Twitter also provides a platform for users to report claims should they feel their rights were infringed upon. This is further elaborated in point 9 of the Terms of Use.

Although the general rule of “You allow us to use your information when you sign up” still applies, Facebook’s take on intellectual property is mainly up to the user themselves. This platform provides a wide range of privacy settings that allow the user to choose the people that can view their information, as well filter the information they can share.

Austin Malema

We caught up with some South African photographers, Austin Malema (@austin_malema) and Andrew Soglo (@idrewitza) who have recently felt the pain around this issue. They both found their photos of local Hip-Hop rapper Cassper Nyovest’s “Fill Up The Dome” and #FeesMustFall respectively, being published on online, as well as print publications without their prior consent. Both gents shared their views and expressed how they felt this was an injustice to their work as photographers, especially where financial gain is concerned.

Austin said he thinks people should just accept that there will be those people who will take your photos and use them without your consent. He further encouraged the use of the blossoming “Photo cred” trend, repost applications, as well as the use of watermarks on pictures “although it compromises the quality of the picture sometimes”, saying these will help the photographer detect who has used what, as well as provide credibility to whoever is reusing the photo.

On the other end, Andrew believes there is seemingly no malicious intent from the general public when they repost or reuse an image, he adds that “They probably don’t even know what they are doing is wrong.” Similar to Austin’s sentiments, Andrew too mentions that photographers should post their pictures with the awareness that someone out there will probably steal them.

Andrew Soglo

So to put things simply…

  1. As the user of these platform, you are responsible for the content you put out.
  2. Photographers, videographers, designers, make sure there is some form of identification on your pictures that is unique to you, e.g watermark or logo.
  3. If it’s not at all tacky for you, use “Repost” apps that automatically add the handle of the account where you originally took the photo. (More specific to Instagram)

For more information regarding what are the laws around social media, here a few links we think would be helpful:



Written by: Mandisa Mgidi
Edited by: Kgabo Legora

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