By Princess Jones

Jessica Simpson recently posted a picture of herself on her Instagram account. It was something she’d done a million times before, but this time there was a problem. She posted a paparazzi photo that she didn’t have the copyright on and now is being sued for copyright infringement.

You don’t need to get your own copyright lawsuit to learn something from this incident. Photo copyright is a serious thing and Instagram posts are not excluded from it. If your business has an Instagram account, you can avoid copyright infringement problems by just making smart content decisions.

Use Your Own Pictures

The easiest way to avoid any troubles with copyright infringement is to just use images you or your staff create. Photo copyright automatically falls to the person or organization that creates it. There it stays until it is transferred to another party by verbal or written contract. (And preferably a written contract.) If you create the images yourself, you can use them in any way you’d like.

You can do full photo shoots in your place of business — documenting products, locations, and staff. This option will give you the most options with high resolution, styled photos. But it’s the most expensive option for the same reason. Get more bang for your buck by planning the shoot in detail and being efficient with the photographer’s time. You can also try hiring a student photographer for a lower fee but just remember that you get what you pay for.

Alternatively, you and your staff can take your own candid photos around your business. Rather than giving everyone access to your social media accounts, consider making a folder in your favorite cloud storage system. Everyone can dump their photos there. (Consider using Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud.) Then you can review the photos and choose appropriate ones for sharing.

Use Copyright Free Photos

But what if you don’t have the ability to take your own photos? You can use copyright free images for your Instagram activity. You can buy stock photos from sites like iStockphotos or Deposit Photos. There are levels of purchase depending on how you want to use the photo. You can also check to see how many times the photo had been used before to decide whether you want to use it, too.

You can also use photos under the Creative Commons license — which just means that the owner allows you to use them based on one of their options. Most just ask that you don’t use the photo on products or services and that you attribute it to the owner. Flickr has a large database of photos that you can search by keyword and Creative Commons license.

Using Other People’s Photos

In general, it’s a bad idea for you to use other people’s photos on your business Instagram account. But there are times when it’s tempting. For example, what if someone takes a photo of your product and gives a glowing review while tagging you? Or what if someone posts a photo of your staff in action and geotags your business address? You’d want to share that right?

If you want to share another user’s photo of your business or product, the first step is to ask for their permission. You can DM them to ask if you can share the photo on your own account. You’d be surprised how much this works, especially if the person is a fan of your brand. Others might ask for a licensing fee in exchange for you using it.

Just make sure you keep a record of the exchange just in case and also attribute the photo to that user. Consider using an app like Repost to do the sharing for you. When you choose to share using those apps, they handle the attribution for you. You can also do that in the caption or by tagging them in photo.