What Content Can I Use on the Internet?

— Why You Need to Consider Copyright Information and Professionalism


For many of us, navigating the world of social media (and the internet in general) can be tricky. Even if you have the best intentions when posting something to your Instagram business page, you could lose followers or get slapped with a copyright infringement notice if you aren’t careful!


So, let’s discuss the answer to the question that’s on all of our minds: what can and can’t I use on the internet?


What is Copyright Law, and Why Does It Matter?

You’ve probably heard the word “copyright” tossed around online before. But, what exactly does this mean in the digital world, and why do you need to consider it?


“Copyright law” refers to a legal right that protects a creator’s original content from being duplicated or used online without their permission. Copyright law protection extends to almost all the content you can find online, including:


● Videos

● Articles

● Artwork

● Photographs


The only person or entity who can hold the copyright for a particular piece of content is the original author. It protects them against anyone who uploads their work without permission, or against anyone who creates new content based on their intellectual property. If you distribute, copy, or create a new image or graphic using someone else’s work as a base, you are committing copyright infringement.


Instagram’s Policy on Copyrighted Images

As a modern small business owner, you’ll probably be using Instagram to promote your business and connect with customers on a regular basis. For this reason, it’s important that you understand what you can and cannot post on Instagram.


According to Instagram’s terms of use and other policies, the only thing you’re allowed to post to their platform is content that does not violate another person’s or entity’s copyright protections. Before you post something on Instagram, they recommend asking yourself the following questions:

· Did I create all the content in this image myself?

· Do I have permission from the original copyright owner to use any content I didn’t create?


If you do want to post something that uses content copyrighted to another person or company, be sure to not only ask and receive explicit permission, but also to give them credit in the first couple of lines of your caption.


Instagram’s advice to creators? “The best way to help make sure that what you post to Instagram doesn’t violate copyright law is to only post content that you’ve created yourself.”


What’s the Risk of Using Other People’s Content?

You probably don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers, and you’re definitely not intending to profit off other people’s work or deceive your clients into thinking you made it yourself. So, you might be wondering: what’s the real risk of using other people’s content on your social media pages?


The reality is, that you might not get caught using other people’s content right away. But, as long as the image is out there, there’s a chance that the copyright holder will file an infringement claim. In the worst-case scenario, you could get your entire social media account shut down — ruining all the progress you’ve made online over the years!


The thing about copyright infringement is, that it doesn’t matter how many followers you have or whether or not you’ve profited off of other people’s content. One copyright claim against you and your business could be destroyed forever.


Even putting all that aside, using other people’s content is simply an unprofessional, unethical business practice. Your goal should be to create your own unique brand from scratch, not to use what has worked for someone else to get ahead. You don’t see big corporations, or even successful small local businesses, using other people’s content — so, you definitely don’t want to do it yourself.


How to Make Content Your Own

It can become difficult, and in some cases, downright stressful, to try and figure out what exactly you can and cannot use on your business’s social media pages. Here’s a tip: when in doubt, make it your own!

Let Your Products Stand for Themselves

Something I’ve seen a lot on social media lately is people screenshotting stills from TV shows or listings for designer products, then putting their own products next to them as a comparison. Here’s an example:




Although it might seem like an innocent way to offer your customers an affordable dupe to a higher-end product, there are a lot of issues with this marketing tactic. As we’ve touched on, you don’t want to use someone else’s work to promote your own - focus on finding ways for your products and services to speak for themselves.


Start by taking professional-quality photos of your products. Many small businesses have found success using the popular flat lay style. You could also recruit your friends or family members as models, then take photos of them using your products.


For example — perhaps you have a small business that sells handmade jewelry. You could try taking professional flat lay photos of matching sets or having your friends model your earrings, necklaces, and bracelets.


Once you’ve found the perfect photo, it’s time to edit and upload it to Instagram. In the caption, highlight all the product’s best qualities - those you’d expect to read about on other business pages. Here’s a quick example for reference:



As you progress as a company, consider asking customers for reviews or testimonials. If you receive a particularly well-written or positive review, ask if you can share it on your business page along with a photo of the customer with your products. Not only is this a great way to bring more original content to your page, but it’ll also help you build better, longer-lasting relationships with your clients!


Tips for Using Quotes on Social Media

A lot of small business owners post quotes on their social media profiles. This is often done to inspire trust by establishing the company owner’s mission, vision, or goals. But, if you look at the way professional and successful businesses use quotes, you’ll notice one similarity — they all make their own graphics to go along with the words!


When small businesses are just starting out, they’ll often Google a quote they like, pull the first graphic they see, and post it to their feed. As long as the graphic gives credit to the person whose quote it is, what’s the issue here?


Well, the main problem with this method is that it simply does not look professional. Sure, the graphic was probably made using a royalty-free image and the quoter is given credit. But, you just don’t see other successful businesses posting images they’ve pulled off Google. Instead, you’ll see them using the quote within their own graphic. Here are some examples of ways Promote Creatively has posted quotes, but in a way that relates to our overall branding style:




These examples should give you an idea of how to correctly post quotes on your page. The color scheme, font, and other qualities all fit well with what’s already posted, so everything looks professional and cohesive. Here’s how these examples look when you scroll through our feed.




Notice how well everything matches with the other content on the Promote Creatively feed. Nothing looks out of place, it all looks professional, and best of all, everything you see is completely original content. That all goes a long way in establishing credibility.


Only Use Royalty-Free Content

As we touched on with quotes, many small business owners find success with creating their own graphics in addition to original pictures of their products. Making graphics is a great way to convey important or interesting information to your followers while staying on brand. You can add your own graphics to your Instagram or Facebook Story or feed to let clients know about:


● Sales or promotions

● New products dropping soon

● General advice and information

● Workshops or events you’ll be hosting

● And more!


Think about the most interesting graphics you’ve seen other small business owners use. Almost all of them will use the company’s usual color scheme, fonts, and other branding materials. Sometimes, they’ll also include small images or clipart. But, like most things on the internet, you can’t just Google an image or clip and paste it onto your graphic.


When you create your own graphics, the only unoriginal element you should be using is royalty-free images. Royalty-free images can be used freely across the internet with no risk of copyright infringement. The original author uploads their work to royalty-free platforms, fully aware and willing to have their images duplicated and used by whoever may choose to do so.


Some royalty-free platforms charge a small download or monthly subscription fee, while others will give you a monthly limit for free downloads. Some examples of royalty-free image websites include:


● iStock

● Unsplash

● Shutterstock


Just search for the type of image you’d like to use, then download it and paste it onto the graphic you’re working on!


Final Thoughts — What You Can and Cannot Use on the Internet

Navigating the world of copyright law can definitely be confusing. But, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so when in doubt, avoid using anything other than your own original work on social media. This includes, but is not limited to:


● Screenshots

● Stills from movies or TV shows

● Images you downloaded online


Remember, putting any copyright issues aside, using unoriginal images on social media is simply not professional. You want to craft a unique brand from scratch, not create a jumbled mess of other people’s content. You know your products and services are good, so let them speak for themselves!


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