Getting reimbursed for social media images used in newspapers without your permission

Stolen photographs: what to do?” – this is probably worth reading before you act

If you are in the US you can register your work with the US Copyright Office and you can even do this after the image / video has been used. While you automatically own the copyright anyway registering seems to increase the amount of statutory damages you can claim.

Every few weeks I see a flurry of tweets about someone whose photo, which they shared on Twitter, has been used online (and possibly in print) in a newspaper without their permission. Quite often someone from the newspaper in question has asked if they can use the photo and then the paper has gone ahead and used it even where permission was denied.

There seems to be no currently known or effective way of preventing such unauthorised re-use but a handful of people have reported retrospective success in getting paid for use of the photo as well as additional payment for its unauthorised use. This post points to some of those successes and information about what your rights are – note however that I am not a lawyer, always seek advice from appropriately qualified people if you need it.

Don’t be fobbed off by responses mentioning the ‘public domain’

If you take a photograph it is automatically yours in terms of copyright and sharing it on social media doesn’t grant anyone else automatic rights to re-use it. Pictures posted to Twitter or anywhere else are not automatically “in the public domain” even though they are public and available to be seen by everyone. The phrase ‘public domain’ has different meanings in different contexts but in legal / copyright terms it does not simply mean ‘displayed in public‘: “The legal term public domain refers to works whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, have been expressly waived, or are inapplicable” – Wikipedia. If you’ve posted your photo somewhere you get to decide how it’s used.

Other examples include this from 2010 and from 2008.

Generally for practical purposes it’s usually fine to embed the image elsewhere because doing so links back to the original post with credit. Presumably people could object to this of course (I am not aware of examples). Ironically in this post I have embedded tweets above which contain images that were used without permission by one newspaper…

Note that online newspapers can also benefit from advertising revenue, which may depend on the number of page visits – so your image may also be contributing to their income.

If you are asked on Twitter by a newspaper to use your image, take a screenshot of their tweet and of your reply, showing context.

How people have responded to requests to use their images

This 2017 post outlines a disappointing phone call with newspaper staff about images used without permission and the photographer includes a copy of the letter they sent. The blog post hasn’t yet been updated with an outcome but there’s an interesting comment from ‘Frank’ who recommends that people speak with a lawyer before contacting an infringing party. They point to a 2011 article from Editorial Photographers United Kingdom and Ireland called “Stolen photographs: what to do?” – this is probably worth reading first, before contacting the paper.

• Two people who got paid after contacting a newspaper that used their images
This blog post (from 2012) outlines how a photographer recovered payment for the unauthorised use of his images – he also recommends remaining polite and professional, and suggests watermarking images (see Watermarking note below). Another post (also from 2012) had similar success in getting payment and a link added into the infringing article which pointed back to their website.

• One person who got paid after instigating Court proceedings
This, from just a few days ago (28 Feb 2018), is a nice story of persistence, but did involve learning quite a lot about the legal world before being able to proceed. I was particularly interested in the bit about the Tomlin order, which I’d not heard about before.


For people using smartphones to take images of ‘stuff happening’ that then becomes newsworthy there are apps that let you add watermarks and comments. I presume these can also be removed later, presumably by you (but perhaps by newspapers) so I might suggest screenshotting the image first and sharing that instead. For iPhone users on iOS 10+ there’s apparently something helpful within the Camera roll that lets you write on your pics.

Incidentally as far as I’m aware a screenshot also has minimal EXIF data.

Further reading

Freelance fees guide – Photography
Photographer wins $1.2 million from companies that took pictures off Twitter (2013) and the background to that story.
Can we use your photo? (9 March 2018) Articulate
He Said No, Fox News Used His Images Anyway (28 May 2018) Photoshelter Blog
• Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 – rights and remedies of copyright owner
Copyright Infringement: Fact sheet P-05 from the UK Copyright Service (March 2003, updated 23 October 2019)
#UseItPayForIt from the National Union of Journalists (16 January 2018)
What to Do When Your Images Are Used Without Permission (11 May 2016)

For journalists

How to: know when to use photos from social media (2011)

The image accompanying this post is ‘CC0’ licensed which means that it can be used without attribution, but in case you want to use it too I got it from

2 thoughts on “Getting reimbursed for social media images used in newspapers without your permission

  1. Clearly I need to look into how to re-post this inside my blog (with credit of course) without it formatting funny to my setup – would be great alongside mine and I could do with another voice other than mine!


    • If we’re both wordpress dot com users it should be fairly straightforward. You can download the ‘Press this’ “marklet” which adds to your favourites bar in your browser (you’d have to search for the instructions, I can’t remember how it’s done) then visit my page or whatever you want to re-blog. Either select a bit of the text you want to include (or write your own) and then click on the ‘Press this’ to add it to a new WordPress post. I suspect what’s wanted is simply to add it to the end as a link to your current post (as I did on mine).


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