With User-Generated Content, You Have to Master the Legalese

On social media sites, the aim is to share — share our feelings, our thoughts about the world, the photos we take or things we’re looking forward to. It’s a powerful way to connect with others, even if they happen to be at the opposite end of the world. This opportunity has changed life as we know it. But what does “sharing” mean for companies looking to cash in on user-generated content?

In a whitepaper exploring the legal implications of user-generated content, lawyer Bob Latham notes that though “UGC presents great opportunities for both users and website operators, it also inevitably raises a host of potentially thorny legal questions.”

The answer, then, isn’t so clear. If we’re not careful, reposting content from others can mean entanglement in the law, whether it’s based on intellectual property rights, privacy or even defamation. And what business wants that blemish on their record?

This issue poses a boundary to companies who want to incorporate user-generated content into their marketing strategy. It definitely doesn’t mean, though, that they shouldn’t use this kind of content. There’s no question why user-generated content has exploded in popularity over the years. This priceless tool increases engagement, ramps up sales and fosters conversations with your audience. So where can businesses go from here?

As long as you can master the legalese of user-generated content, these issues shouldn’t arise. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you’re using photos and videos from everyday people:

Don’t Just Copy and Paste

This one might be a no-brainer, but reposting any old image you find on the internet to your website, blog or social media feed is grounds for a costly lawsuit. Even prolific content aggregator BuzzFeed isn’t immune.

If you’re looking for free content for your digital marketing, only free-use and royalty-free images are on the table. Though this might be an attractive choice, options on this end are often limited to low-quality images or overused stock photography.

User-generated content from everyday people will always be more trustworthy and engaging than stock photos or even brand-produced content, and the pricing pays for the benefits. Sure — anyone on the internet can post a photo. We just pay more attention to influencers and peers than staged stock photography.

Even if they’ll cost you a few dollars more, don’t underestimate their power. Scopio’s platform will help you discover and license the photos and videos that speak to your target audience for the best price in the industry, and all you have to do is pay a flat fee.

Learn How to License

If you’re ready to take advantage of user-generated content, you’ll need to have a legal agreement handy for every picture you license. You have two basic options:

  1. Hire an experienced legal team to draft a solid licensing contract. You’d send this agreement out to each individual photographer you’d like to work with.
  2. Use an image-licensing platform that handles the legal side for you.

With User-Generated Content, You Have to Master the Legalese
Don’t worry about sending out and following up with hundreds of requests! Scopio’s platform automatically creates custom licensing agreements for photographers.

The latter option is more cost-effective for smaller businesses, who probably don’t want to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees just to license photos. And regardless of what business you represent, a platform created specifically for licensing images is more convenient and effective.

With image-licensing platforms like Scopio, there’s no need to produce new legal paperwork for every great photo you scope out. And for each image request you send from your custom dashboard, we’ll generate a new legal agreement with a Getty Images model release.

Using Scopio’s platform, you’re able to send follow-up messages to social media users and check up on the status of each photo or video quickly and easily. This means that all of the work of licensing your visuals and following up with photographers is done in one place.

Figure out Who Owns the Photo

Each image’s metadata information can be viewed and downloaded directly from Scopio’s platform.

You can’t give away the intellectual property rights of a painting, piece of music or sculpture that you didn’t create. The same rule rings true for any piece of art, including the photos or videos sitting on a smartphone or SD card.

Things get murkier, though, when we’re talking about content posted to the internet. Visuals can be downloaded and reposted online in a matter of seconds with no credit to the original artist, which is just the nature of the digital sphere. And though this is technically against the law, it’s often ignored. The internet, after all, is vast.

To remedy this, you’ll need to get permission from the original photographer and videographer when you’d like to use a photo or video.

To find out who really posted the image, you can often take a look at the metadata. This can be done directly through Scopio’s search engine and licensing platform. Just click on any photo in your campaign and select “view metadata” to discover its origin.

Be Prepared, Just in Case

If you’re not using a platform created specifically for licensing visuals from social media, you might still run into some problems. And in the case of something like infringement, you’ll need to have a protocol in place to deal with everything swiftly. It pays to be ready, right?

Your first course of action should be to set up a notice and take-down procedure according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. As long as you remove infringing content within a certain period of time, the DMCA provides a safe harbor provision that should protect you.

To ensure that you’ll receive complaints on time, it helps to create a separate email account and social media feed dedicated to legal claims. When it comes to the law, you can never be too prepared.

Scopio is the industry’s premier search and licensing platform for images and videos on social media. We help companies find and use the photos and videos that matter to their audience, from capturing content to evaluating the performance of their new campaigns. Wondering about what we can do for your digital marketing strategies?  Request a demo with the button below or email info@scop.io. Featured photo by Elise Goodhue/Scopio submission.

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