A woman working at her laptop stares intently at her computer screen. She is supporting her head with her hand.
When you post on social media sites, you're agreeing to their terms, which usually means that the platform can use, distribute, and copy your content, sublicense it, or sell it. — Getty Images/Lucy Lambriex

Social media offers businesses an outlet to expand their audience through engaging and strategic content creation, but this increase in original content also brings with it heightened concerns about copyright protection. While navigating the complex terms of social media platforms can be tricky, businesses can take worthwhile steps to protect their intellectual property from copyright infringement, safeguard their digital assets, and maintain their reputation.

Using copyright on social media platforms

Posting creative work on social media generally allows you to maintain control of your copyright so long as your content is eligible, but depending on the terms and conditions you agreed to when creating your social media account, certain protections may be relinquished. That’s because when you post on sites like YouTube or X, formerly known as Twitter, you're agreeing to their terms, which usually means giving the platform a license to use the content you’ve posted on their platform. However, social media platforms never gain ownership of your work.

Posting your work on social media does not permit other users to reproduce or use your work without proper attribution to you as the original creator. For example, others can share a meme you created through retweets, but they cannot take it and repost it as their own — especially outside the platform — as it doesn't typically qualify as fair use or adhere to platform rules.

[Read more: What Happens If Someone Violates Your Copyright?]

How content is licensed

Whenever a user or brand creates a new social media account, the user must accept the platform’s terms and conditions. Despite most people never reading through the terms and conditions before agreeing to abide by them, these stipulations grant each platform specific rights to use your copyrighted content in any way they choose royalty free.

While the original poster retains ownership of the content they share on social media, each platform has the proper license to use, distribute, copy, and display any content shared on their platform commercially; sublicense it for third-party use; or sell it altogether without ever paying a profit to the original creator.

In most instances, this license ends whenever the content has been deleted from the account or if the account has been terminated; however, if others shared the content before it was deleted, it may remain visible.

Establish a social media policy with the help of your legal counsel to ensure your entire team is on the same page about navigating copyright.

How to avoid copyright infringement

Copyright infringement can lead to a multitude of consequences for businesses, including legal complications, financial losses, and negatively impacted reputations. Nevertheless, businesses can implement proactive measures to prevent such infringements.

[Read more: What Is Fair Use? And How It Impacts What Copyrighted Materials Your Business Can Use]

Create a social media policy

Establish a social media policy with the help of your legal counsel to ensure your entire team is on the same page about navigating copyright. Draft a thorough management strategy that details your company’s standardized security measures, adherence to regulatory standards, approval workflows to guarantee compliance, and methods for avoiding copyright infringement. This policy should include explicit rules regarding resharing content, using popular audio tracks, and collaborating with content creators.

Post original content

While it may be tempting to lean into what’s popular on social media in exchange for views, creating content that uses trending music or improperly reposting content can lead to big trouble for businesses if it’s done incorrectly. To avoid copyright infringement, aim to share content that is completely original and created by your business when possible, and set parameters for when it is acceptable to use third-party content. Have a plan in place to protect your digital assets from copyright infringement — the more original content you produce, the greater the likelihood that others will use it without consent.

Use the correct account

To remain compliant with copyright regulations, brands need to operate under a business-specific account on social media platforms. Using the wrong type of social media account, such as a creator account intended for individual use with broader access to digital content, can lead to copyright infringement issues. This is because the commercial activities of a brand do not fall under the legal permissions granted to individual-use creator accounts.

Obtain the right licensing

Businesses that would prefer to use third-party content, including preexisting content like news footage, stock photos or professional photography, public domain works, or music libraries, should ensure they obtain permission and secure the proper licensing beforehand. Consult with your legal counsel to determine the best approach for securing permissions, and note that the licensing and permissions your business will need are dependent on the specific type of content you’re seeking.

[Read more: How to Seek Permission to Use Copyrighted Material]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Applications are open for the CO—100! Now is your chance to join an exclusive group of outstanding small businesses. Share your story with us — apply today.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Apply for the CO—100!

The CO—100 is an exclusive list of the 100 best and brightest small and mid-sized businesses in America. Enter today to share your story and get recognized.