As you scroll through your Instagram feed, you come across a cool quote or image that you want to include in your blog or website. It’s free and fits the blog just right, but can you do so legally without violating copyright laws?

One thing is clear: The only entity that can use any image posted on Instagram, is Instagram. Big surprise right? Technically, Instagram doesn’t own any content posted on its service. However, every user has granted the service a license, which is non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, and sub-licensable to use any content posted on its service.  But what about the average Instagram user? Can they lawfully repost or use images for their blogs or websites?

The All Important Terms/The Fine Print

Instagram has two very important policies/statements regarding “User Content”. Instagram users who share content do so publicly through the service, which means that such content is available for other Users to search, see, “use” and share.

But there’s a flip side to the rules regarding user content. Although Users have the right to use publicly available content, that use can’t be illegal or used for an unauthorized purpose. Users agree to comply with all federal and state laws, including, copyright laws.

The Wonderful World of Copyright Law  

Copyright law protects creators of any original works of art, which includes images posted on Instagram. The service says that users may use or share publicly available content, but a user has to agree to comply with all laws, including copyright law.  Welcome to the bizarro world of Instagram, that gray area where users can use content but can’t do so if it will amount to copyright infringement. This is where a blogger must be careful. Just because it is publicly available doesn’t meant that the content is not copyright protected.

The photographs I post on Intstagram of my nieces and nephews may not be registered with the United States Office of Patents and Trademark, but I own those photos.  If a year or two later, a t-shirt company uses that image on a t-shirt without my permission and without providing me with compensation, isn’t that copyright infringement, even though technically they are permitted to use the images? So how can content owners and those seeking to use Instagram images protect themselves from illegal use and future lawsuits concerning such use?

Can you use Instagram images, legally? Yes, you can and here’s how:

  • Seek permission from the user before using their content and cite the source of the content to provide attribution to the owner. Without it, you’re committing cyberspace plagiarism
  • Make sure the content actually belongs to the User you are getting permission from, rather than simply crediting whatever account you found the image posted on as it may have been plagiarized
  • If you have time, create your own content and register it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office
  • Use freely available content. Check out this link
  • If you don’t have permission to use the content, don’t use it! Under any circumstances! You may be fined, or worse, face a costly litigation



Written By: Kimberlina N. McKinney, Esq.

Contributions and Research By: Mary Zaghikian and Valerie Sparks