Almost everyone knows that copying or using other people’s work without their permission is a violation of the law. Emphasis on “Almost”.

Social media, at its core, is about sharing User Generated Content (UGC). While social media is indeed integral to most, if not all, PR campaigns, brand owners must bear in mind that all UGC, are by default intellectual properties of the respective content creators or users. As the way materials are produced, shared and consumed evolves, grey areas start to surface with regards to ownership and usage rights of intellectual properties. Here are a few pointers on how to stay safe always:

Protection is Important

Being original is undeniably the best option to avoid copyright boo-boos but there’s always the risk of someone “borrowing” your work without asking. Before you decide to run down to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore or any IP statutory boards every time before you post on social media, here’s a simple solution: watermark. When it comes to images or videos, one of the safest, time-efficient and cost-saving safety measures is to watermark your creation. Like how an animal would mark their territory but instead of bodily excretions, we use technology. 

Watermarks can be customized and placed strategically without costing you an arm and a leg. Instead of paying an artist to design a watermark or dabbling with expensive editing tools, sites like Water Marquee offer easy-to-use watermark tool. No software downloads, no charges.

Q:  What should I do if someone is using my materials without consent?

A: Before you march to the courts or go on a social media exposé to air the bereavement and injustice you have suffered, (1) Try contacting the supposed violator to understand the situation, or (2) Lodge a report with the platform’s management.

Click here for Facebook’s complaint form and here for Instagram’s. 

Never Assume Consent

Generally, content creators have full ownership of their content. However, any work produced during employment, by default, belongs to the employer instead of the creator unless otherwise stated in the employment contract. These, of course, exclude all the #ootd or #foodporn taken for your personal Instagram.

Hell hath no fury to compare to that rage and disgust when one discovers that someone reused their work without the original creator’s knowledge and consent. While some of us are more than happy to be featured on a brand’s or some big shot’s account, under no circumstances is it acceptable or excusable for someone to assume they can lift your content to be included in theirs without asking for permission and giving proper credit to you. This is especially important to those whose social media accounts act as their portfolio. Never take advantage of someone’s “rice bowl”.

On a remotely relevant note, learn how you can up your Instagram game here.

Did You Know: Parodies are allowed but unlicensed covers are not. While Jay-Z and Adele are not out and about to hunt down performers at local bistros or high school talent shows, if you’re planning to reproduce any published works and monetize it, best check with the copyright owners or risk getting served (summons, not cheesecake).

Exposure ≠ Payment (unless otherwise agreed upon)

A simple tag or mention of the content creator or owner, a.k.a the source, in the caption is the least one can do to credit the person’s hard work. This, however, is not a valid excuse for not paying royalty or any form of proper remuneration for using someone else’s work. When such abominable injustice befalls you, call the perpetrators out.

Credit: Marketing

A group of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students did just that. The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was called out for their act but they were unapologetic and condescending in their reply to the students after they were confronted. An international organisation exploiting works of unsuspecting students? Bad move, bad PR.

What about GIF?

To be honest, we have no idea either. While some argue that GIFs are protected under law of “fair use” in certain countries, there are also those who cast their doubt on the validity of such claims. We do, however, doubt that anyone’s going to serve you a cease and desist order for GIF of sassy Mona Lisa.



In short, although the concept of sharing on social media may still fall within the grey areas of copyright laws, the best bet for brands and organisations is to seek permission before re-purposing any content and do all that is required to guarantee a clear conscience, legally and morally.