Copyright on social media

Learn about copyright and how it applies to what you post on social media.

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What copyright is

Copyright in a “work” (visuals, audio, text etc) gives the work’s copyright owner an exclusive right to make copies of that work.  Often, but not always, the owner of the copyright is the creator of the work.  Copyright exists in a work automatically; it does not need to be applied for. 

If your channel uses or reproduces parts of copyrighted work without permission from the owner, this could count as copyright infringement. 

Copyright expires after a certain time (this varies depending on the work, but is generally 70+ years), meaning works are “in the public domain” and may be used without permission. 

Duration of copyright

Copyright lasts for different periods depending on a number of factors, including the type of material, when it was created, when the creator died and when it was published. Learn more about the duration of copyright

Copyright exceptions

You can use copyright-protected works without the copyright owner’s permission under a number of exceptions.  

The most applicable exceptions for government social media channels are the “fair dealing” exceptions of: 

  • fair dealing for parody or satire 
  • fair dealing for criticism or review.   

If you use copyrighted material in a social media post under fair dealing exceptions, we recommend that you:  

  • use copyright material only for organic posts with no commercial purpose (that is, posts that are not boosted or part of a paid campaign)  
  • alter the material in some way so your criticism or parody is clear 
  • are prepared to remove the content if requested to do so by the copyright owner 
  • treat the third-party material in a non-derogatory manner  
  • credit the copyright owner, where known. 

It may be best to consult with your legal team to check your organisation’s stance on using copyright works under exceptions. 

Otherwise, consider using public domain material (where the copyright has expired) or open license material.  

Creative commons  

Creative commons material is licensed by the copyright owner to be used in Australia (or, in certain circumstances, in the world at large) by any person, provided they abide by the terms of the licence.

Before using creative commons material, you must check the terms that the copyright owner has imposed on the creative commons licence.  

The most common licence condition is attribution, which requires the user to give the copyright owner credit in the document for the work. Another common licence condition is that it cannot be used for commercial purposes. 

A creative commons licence can either specify that it is “Share Alike” or “No Derivative Works”. “Share Alike” licenses allow users to alter the work as much as they like, but the work, and the fact that it has been altered, must be credited acknowledged. “No Derivative Works” licenses require users to use the work only in its original form. 

Acknowledging creators 

You must seek permission to use user-generated content or content that is not covered by a copyright exception or licensed under Creative Commons. You will usually need to acknowledge the copyright owner even if you have permission to use the work.

Credit or attribution on social media can be provided by tagging or acknowledging the creator in the post.

Historical Images  

Historical photos can often be used more freely as once their copyright has expired, the photos are in the public domain. Please check if copyright applies to an image before using it.

Memes and GIFs

Memes, GIFs and pop culture generally make good social media content. Used well, they can help to make an issue more relatable or worthy of sharing.

Using memes and GIFs is usually acceptable under “fair dealing” exceptions (that is, for criticism or review, and parody or satire). If you want to start using memes and GIFs on your channel, you should speak to your legal team to ensure they endorse the use.

Managing risk 

We recommend that you have approvals in place for all your social media content.

If you’re concerned that your content may infringe copyright, seek advice from your legal team.  

Third-party materials may have connotations that you don’t know about. This is a risk. If you’re unsure whether the GIF, meme or material you’d like to post is risky, choose a safer option.

Before publishing a post with a GIF, meme, or other copyrighted material, consider: 

  • where it originated
  • what other applications or contexts it is used in
  • whether the audience will understand it
  • if it is appropriate for the subject matter
  • if this format or reference current. 

If you publish a meme or GIF to your account and are pursued by the original content creator for copyright infringement, it could create a legal or reputational risk for the NSW Government. Most of the time, a copyright owner will first issue a “cease and desist letter”. This puts you on notice that the copyright owner believes their copyright is being infringed. If the letter does not demand any payment, but merely demands the removal of the offending work (this is the usual course), you should simply remove the work from public space. 

If your copyrighted material has been used without permission, seek advice from your legal team.

Copyright advice from the platforms 

The platforms have guidance on the use of third-party material, liability for copyright infringement, and instructions for removing content that infringes copyright.

If you have any questions regarding copyright material and social media use, please seek advice from your legal team.

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