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.

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.

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

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


How to add alt-text descriptions to pictures on Twitter for visually impaired people

I’ve seen a couple of tweets and Twitter threads in the last couple of days that have gone a bit viral, highlighting that everyone can set something up in their Twitter settings to make things easier for visually impaired users. If you switch ON the option to be able to caption your photos then, whenever you upload a pic to Twitter, you can click on the image and add a text description. This description doesn’t show up in your tweet (it doesn’t impinge on your character limit) but is useful for those using voice software.

  1. History
  2. How to set it up
  3. Write good descriptions

1. History: Twitter rolls out the ability to add alt text in 2016, initially just for phone apps I think, then later it rolls out to everything.

2. How to set it up

Full info in How to make images accessible for people but for desktop users (like me) the steps look like this, below.

a) Go to and scroll to the bottom of the panel on the left, click on Accessibility.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.12.14

b) Make sure there’s a tick next to ‘Compose image descriptions’

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.14.00

Example of what it looks like when you upload a picture to desktop

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.41.22

Click anywhere on the image to Add description and write your text in the box that appears.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 00.41.55

3. Write good descriptions: Lovely thread from RobotHugsComics (h/t ScottKeir) with suggestions of what to actually write in the description window.


How to display Instagram pictures correctly in tweets using IFTTT

If you post to Instagram and it sends a copy to Twitter then only a link appears, Twitter doesn’t display your image in the tweet. The reason is because Instagram does not support ‘Twitter cards’(1) but you can(2) bypass this by using the third party service IFTTT (If This, Then That) to get around it and display images correctly. Once you upload a new image to Instagram it will get tweeted out and display as a picture (note that it won’t work in cases where you write a tweet and include an Instagram link).

Be aware that if you have ‘post to Twitter’ switched on on your Instagram account then you may end up with two copies of the tweet – one directly from Instagram with no image (the wrong one), and the one via IFTTT with the image (the new and improved version). You can safely switch off the Instagram one (see my image below of my settings).

You will need, and to be logged into

  • a Twitter account
  • an Instagram account
  • an IFTTT account

Once logged into IFTTT visit this recipe(3) page Tweet your Instagrams as native photos and follow the instructions to ‘connect’ your Twitter ( and Instagram ( accounts – IFTTT refers to these as ‘channels’.


This will allow your Twitter and Instagram accounts can talk to each other independently, through IFTTT.

Once done it should look a bit like this and when you post an image to Instagram and it should turn up on your Twitter timeline with the picture appearing.


It worked… [if you’re viewing on a mobile it will probably look as if it didn’t, but it did!]

Note that these are my settings on Instagram – it says that I have Twitter-sharing switched off, which is true, but the IFTTT recipe is now overriding this.


(1)Twitter cards are basically a display-format that websites can sign up to so that pictures embed and display on Twitter as an image rather than as a link that you have to click on. The IFTTT system uploads the image to Twitter as a (usually hidden, but may show on mobile apps as a pic.twitter link and also provides a link back to the original Instagram (that link will show as

(2)However you might prefer that people click on the link so that your Instagram account gets the relevant metrics and you might also prefer that Twitter isn’t further overrun with images 🙂

(3)There are other examples of recipes that will also perform this function, have a search of the options and see what’s on there.