If you’ve ever scrolled through Instagram and found a photo of a beach that you loved or a quote that inspired you, you may have been tempted to repost it to your own page. However, first ask yourself, “Can I legally use this picture since it’s not mine?” The rules for using someone else’s image vary depending on what, why, and how you are going to use it. The following questions will help guide you through using copyrighted images.

What are you going to do to the photo?

Are you planning on transforming the photo to look different or have a new meaning? If your answer is yes, you are generally safe to use the photo, although it depends on each case. If you completely restructure the photo to the point it is unrecognizable from the original, then you are safe. The fair use laws protect you if the image is published in a non-biased way, with the goal being educating the public. If your answer is no, then your best bet would to be to try and obtain permission from the photo’s original source. Keep in mind this true story. An author at a self-publishing house copied an image of an avocado to use in her book. She soon received an email noting that she did not have copyright permission for the image, and she would need to pay $800 immediately, or be sued for copyright violation. Remember, just because an image is on the internet, that doesn’t mean you can use it for free.

Why are you using the photo?

If you are using the photo in a fact-based context or in a way that will benefit the public, then the fair use laws grant usage of the photo. However, it does vary case by case. If you are using the photo for personal use, you do not have to obtain permission.

How are you using the photo?

If you are using it for personal, educational, non-profit, or research purposes, AND if it is going to be used sparingly, then it can be generally determined as safe to use without gaining permission.


1. If a picture I took myself looks almost the same as someone else’s, is it still fine to publish mine in any way I like?

Unfortunately, no. If your photo can easily be mistaken for another’s, your safest course of action would be to only use it for personal use, or to obtain permission from the other source.

2. Can I use an image I found on a website like Instagram or Twitter?

Distributing and reusing images via social media is generally acceptable, because it was originally intended for the public to see. However, ethics comes into play whenever you want to use someone else’s photo. It is important to review how you intend to use the image before doing so. If a person did not intend for a photo to be viewed publicly, then it is best to respect their privacy. For example, if an Instagram or Facebook account is private, it is understood they do not wish for the public to be able to view their images.

3. What does it mean when a photo is within public domain?

Copyright has expired for all works published in the United States before 1923. When an image no longer has copyright restrictions, it is in public domain. This could be because the creator released their copyright, the copyright expired, or the creator has passed away, and therefore no one owns the copyright.

4. What if I want to use an image for personal or commercial gain?

Tread lightly. Fair Use laws don’t protect this type of usage, so it is crucial to obtain permission from the creator.

5. What are the Fair Use laws?

Fair Use is the legal right to use copyrighted images under the assumption that they will be used in educational, research, or personal contexts, and as long as the usage of said image benefits the public.

6. What are the rules for attributing the creator of an image when using it under a license?

There are various ways to go about giving photo attribution. The correct way is to adhere by the rules of TASL. Include all of the following when giving photo credits.

T- Title of the image.

A- Author. Include the name of the creator.

S- Source. The URL where the image is posted.

L- License. They type of Creative Commons license it is available under, including a link to the relevant license.

7. Can I use certain content within photos, without gaining permission?

Even if it is only a portion of an image, it is still recognizable by the creator. Gaining permission and utilizing TASL is the safest way to handle this situation.