User Generated Content (UGC) is powerful content for your business.

It’s one of the quickest ways to give your product, or service, authenticity and engagement on social media.  It shows the world that real people are using it and loving it!  This inspires others and gives them that desire to want to look and feel just like that too – You too can look as happy or content in life as Janet from number 54 looks wearing that incredible coat.

However as businesses you can’t just use that image of Janet wearing your coat and put it on your own social media, website, or even on some direct mailing campaign.

“Why not?”  I hear you ask. Now bare with me, this is worth a longer explanation…

There are billions of images all over the internet and it’s a much misunderstood thought process that if a photo is on the internet then it’s ‘freely available’ to use without charge.

Copyright laws though are a different matter. Copyright does not belong to the camera owner. Neither is it the person or people featured in the photo and it’s not the owner of any of the items that also might feature in the photo.

The legal owner of the photo is the person that pressed the shutter button.  They own the copyright to that photo until 70 years after their death.

That’s a simple version of Copyright.

One way to gain some images is through what are known as ‘stock’ library.  Stock Librarys are a bit of a one-stop shop and hold thousands of images so you can find what you need or like and enter into a contract with either the library hosts or the individual photographer and buy the right to use the photo.  Costs vary and the usage terms can too.  It’s all at the discretion of the photographer on how they choose to enable others to purchase the right to use their image/s.

The key to this is ‘the right to use’.   Transfer of ownership (copyright) is rarely sold.

In business you can use the Stock images to fulfil your needs, or you can commission a photographer to gain your own library.  Which is a much better and more authentic thing to do for your business, however this blog isn’t about telling you to book me!

It’s about explaining what you really shouldn’t do with images and, in this highly driven world of social media sharing and caring, what the best practices are when you see an image that relates to you or your business and you’d like to ‘use’ it.

With the rise of Social Media and particularly Influencers, and the knowledge that User Generated Content (UGC) can be a fabulous way to build relationships. It’s really important that all parties approve the use of those images.

If a Brand see’s an image that features their products they need to track down the copyright holder and NOT the person who posted the photo.  Now, that could actually be the same person, but the best place to start is by asking who posted the image who actually took the photograph.  If the photo was taken by the person posting it (let’s call them the Wearer) then the Brand could just simply ask the Wearer would they mind if they can repost it and ‘credit’ the Wearer with a simple tag.

That can work really well, both parties can be really happy.  The Wearer might gain the start of a relationship with the Brand and will also have some additional exposure through the Brands own channels.

This works so long as the Wearer hasn’t posted an image shot by either a professional photographer  – or by someone else.

If the Wearer has confirmed the copyright owner is someone else, even if it’s the Wearers Mother/Brother or Best friend, it is the Brands responsibility to track them down and ask to use it.   The Wearer can’t speak for them – even if they purchased that image (well, the right to use it) themselves in the first place.  It is always the case that the Brand must seek approval from the Copyright holder.  If the Copyright holder is a professional photographer then they should fully expect there to be some level of financial transaction in order for the Brand to be able to ‘use’ that image. It doesn’t matter if the Wearer purchased the image themselves (maybe they are competing their horse), because 999.99 times out of 1,000 they’ve bought a personal license which only entitles them to use it in a personal way – such as popping it on Facebook to show everyone how well they got on at a horse show.  The second that moves away from that, it goes into an area with a commercial aspect and potential gain.  Gaining from the use of an image is deemed commercial in the eyes of many.

Whilst it might not be something I directly pursue myself, there are thousands of photographers who will readily pursue a claim for illegal usage and loss of earnings.  Each claim can be for thousands of pounds. The courts in the UK are well versed in this area and with the law on the side of the copyright holder, it’s not generally a good outcome for the Brands.

So, my advice here is avoid the potential claim particularly as it’s generally really easy to establish who took most of the photographs that could be used as part of a UGC campaign (or similar). If you can’t find out, then don’t take the risk and post it anyway.

I hope this helps unravel an area that can be a little tricky to navigate.  UGC is powerful stuff, but it’s at it’s most powerful if it’s achieved in the correct way with all involved parties fully compliant with what it’s being used for.

Rachel x

I offer a range of options for business looking for product or service based photography.  Why not remove the doubt from whether an image can be used or not by gaining your own stock library.

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