Insureon Blog

Can businesses use customer images on social media?

18. February 2014 13:36

Child feeding dad at a restaurant

By Melissa Gold, Insureon Contributor

Sharing customer photos on social media can be a great way to promote your business. People love to see that others have used a product or service and had a positive experience – it’s a time-tested marketing technique that was used long before Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest were introduced to the world.

However, sharing customer photos as they engage with your business also comes with unique risks, and you’ll need to take steps to make sure your business is protected.

Obtain consent before using customer images online

If you routinely take pictures of customers using your products or services, you must get permission to use the photos on your website or social accounts. Anything you share on social media with a business account is considered commercial use. It’s presumed that if your business maintains social networks, it’s for the purpose of marketing your products or services.

If you photograph customers trying on the clothes you sell in your store, even if the caption is, “Happy customers having a blast trying on shoes!,” it’s a commercial communication because it’s for the purpose of demonstrating to the viewer what’s appealing about your store and why they should shop there.

However, if you take customer photos, you can publish them if the person is not identifiable. Images that show the back of a customer’s head or one body part (such as a foot or hand), or an angle where you can’t see their face, would be permissible even without the person’s consent. Be sure that if you put employees in charge of photography or social media for your business, they’re aware of this rule, too.

If you want to use customer images, obtain written consent and keep the document on file. If this is something that you would like to do often, have a boilerplate consent form that includes all the ways you might use the photo and the duration for which consent is granted.

Laws against posting pictures without consent vary from state to state. If you’re planning to use customer photos for your business, check the invasion of privacy laws in the state where you plan to take pictures.

How to avoid invasion of privacy with customer images

Invasion of privacy includes any circumstance in which someone’s personal information is shared publicly when there are legal protections to prevent that from happening.

If someone is doing something in a place where they would have an expectation of privacy, then publishing a photo of them in that situation is not permitted. People also have the right to control the commercial use of their image.

Invasion of privacy has four elements:

Avoiding copyright violations

The other factor in using photos online is whether you’re violating someone’s copyright. This applies to photos taken by another person. Unless an image has a Creative Commons copyright, which is rare, you could face legal action if you share something that was taken by another photographer on social media or your website – this applies to customer photos using your product or service that you did not take yourself.

Is it legal to repost, retweet, or share someone’s content online?

You need to assume that the copyright for any photo or content online is held by the individual who posted it. If you’re going to share photos that someone else has posted online, you need to make it absolutely clear that the content is not yours, and you must credit the creator. You should also get written consent to avoid any claims of copyright infringement.

If you’re reposting content, you should also tag the owner of the content and attribute it in a caption so that there can be no question as to who was the creator. If you’re asking customers to submit photos for an online promotion or contest, it’s essential that you tell them the purpose of the submission and how the images will be used.

Protect yourself against lawsuits with social media insurance

Social media has opened a lot of doors for small businesses. You now have options outside of traditional advertising to grow your business and cultivate a community around your products and services. However, copyright and privacy laws are nuanced, and it’s important to understand their limitations.

It’s also essential to protect your business with social media insurance. Even a frivolous claim of invasion of privacy or copyright infringement can be financially devastating to defend. General liability insurance typically covers copyright and privacy issues if your business is forced to defend legal actions or pay a settlement. It can also provide protection against claims of libel or slander in social media communications.

Learn more about small business insurance and compare quotes online from top U.S. carriers for free with Insureon.


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