Facebook Image Sharing and Copyright

Sharing photos on Facebook (or Pinterest or Flickr or any other social network).

It’s a common practice.

In fact, it’s rewarded because images are shared more often on Facebook, which increases the “talking about” metric, and therefore improves Edgerank. An image is more likely to go viral than a text-based status update, or a link.

But the question is: Does posting a screenshot of an image, a cartoon, or an infographic on Facebook constitute copyright violation?

Legally, I beleive the answer is yes.

  • What if it’s for illustration or educational purposes, as I’ve done here?
  • What if you give credit, like a link to the original image?

{Someone feel free to get back to me on those questions.}

 Copyright and sharing on social networks - Vintage Social Networking by John Atkinson Wrong Hands


This debate has been long-standing with photographers, but has continued to raise questions about copyright of image sharing with the exponential rise in popularity of social networking sites and online photo sharing sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Flickr.


Here’s how you can respect copyright, give credit and a link to the original source of the image.

Using Google Search as an example:

1. In the search bar, type in the quote, or describe the image.

2. Go to “images”. If the image is popular, you’ll see lots of variations. See if you can find one by the original artist/creator.

3. Share the image – from the artists’ Pinterest board, Facebook Page or blog post.

This is SO important because then the original artist gets the “link love” and benefits from the traffic, either to their website, Pinterest board, or Facebook Page.


If that’s not possible (ie you can’t find the original source), and there is a printed URL on the image, just add it to your status update or post so it is an active link. For example, at the end of your own text or description you can add to your Facebook post: image source – John Atkinson, Wrong Hands http://wronghands1.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/vintage-social-networking/


Keep in mind that this method does give attribution, however you are the one getting the shares and likes on YOUR Facebook status update, not the artist. Is it really fair that you piggy-back off of what they created?


Here is the cartoon in the original blog post. It includes ways to share the image to various social networks – this way  the artist will get credit when it’s shared, and traffic will direct back to the original website which is good for SEO.


Vintage Social Networking cartoon on the original blog post by Wrong Hands



★ UPDATE: April 7, 2013.

A word of thanks from the Vintage Social Networking cartoon’s creator at Wrong Hands, commenting below in response to my blog post :

Great article! As the creator of the above cartoon I’ve been struggling quite a bit with people either sharing my work improperly or downright stealing it (as in the case of the above sample with the copyright info and blog address cropped off – I think it fist appeared on Reditt). Articles such as this one can only help to illustrate not only how simple it is to give the proper credit, but also how important it is to do so. Kudos!


★ End Update.


It took me less than 30 seconds to find the original source of 2 images I’ve seen recently.


Be Strong You Never Know Who You Are Inspiring - poster in Google Search



Sometimes it’s as easy as using the URL on the poster/image and creating a link for it in a Facebook status update so it’s easier for people to access the original source, or sharing it directly from their blog, website or social network. This was the case with the popular cartoon by John Atkinson called “Vintage Social Networking”. However, sometimes the link has been intentionally cropped out of the photo. {Not only illegal, but very uncool. The karma-Gods are watching.}



Finding “legal” photos to share


There are several ways to share images that don’t breach copyright.

1. Create your own images.

2. For a small fee (depending on use and distribution of image) you can buy images, graphics or videos from a stock agency, such as Canstock, iStock or Getty.

3. Find Creative Commons images (see explanation below) on sites such as Flickr and FreeDigitalPhotos.net


What is Creative Commons?

According to Wikipedia:

Creative Commons license is one of several public copyright licenses that allow the distribution of copyrighted works. A Creative Commons license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work that they have created.


From the Flickr website, they describe several types of Creative Commons licenses each with an appropriate symbol to show how the images may be used:


Creative Commons license symbols and uses for photos


It’s true that artist and photographers want their work to be shared. It’s part of the appeal of working in a visual or creative industry. Of course, that’s also why they post their images online in the first place.


What if Facebook made it easier to share an image, not just a link with a tiny thumbnail, as in the example below. People like to see photos, and share them. Why not make the process easier, to avoid the “screenshot” approach to sharing?

Also, when I shared Vintage Social Networking to Facebook, the link is to their main website, not  the blog post that contains the image.

Vintage Social Media cartoon shared to Facebook via Wrong Hands blog - small thumbnail


Or is it just a matter of educating the public on the importance of  copyright, not simply because it’s right or wrong in a legal sense, but out of respect for the person creating the work in the first place – teaching the value that sharing a photo, cartoon, infographic or video has to the artist’s livelihood ?

People who share incorrectly out of ignorance, I can accept (educating them is the key). However it’s the people who reply “I know. I’ll just take my chances.” that REALLY riles me up!


And while I’m on my soapbox – what about all those quotes that are so popular on every social network? It’s common to leave out the author of the quote. But that’s a whole other blog post ;0)


On a similar topic, check out this blog post about copyright and sharing on Pinterest on the Living Lucurto blog.

Important Info For Bloggers and Creatives using Pinterest - via Living Lucurto


What are your thoughts about copyright when it comes to image sharing on social networks such as Facebook, Pinterest and Flickr?

Further reading – other articles on image sharing and copyright:


Is Social Media Creating a Plagiarism Problem  – Emilia Sukhova, guest post with infographic, on Convince and Convert blog

Is Pinterest a Haven for Copyright Violations – Hubpages

Why I tearfully deleted my Pinterest Inspiration Boards – by attorney and photographer  Kristen Kowalski at DDK Portraits

Protecting Yourself from Social Media Lawsuits –  Indra Gardner, guest posting on Convince and Convert blog


What We Do

Bright Spark Media is located in Kelowna, BC. We help small businesses, entrepreneurs and service professionals in the Okanagan Valley and globally online. We offer social media training, customized social media set up, social media strategy and business coaching sessions, as well as commercial or event photography services and web design...everything to help you create an irresistible online presence!


Kelowna, BC, Canada
Phone: +1 250.575.5964
Email: BrightSparkSocialMedia@gmail.com