Just because Starbucks does it, doesn’t mean you should, too.

Are you asking users to post Instagram photos with your brand hashtag? Are you reposting fan photos that used your brand hashtag on your feed? If you answered yes to those questions, then you are violating Instagram's Terms of Use and basic copyright law.

We’ve all done it – or seen it done. A specific hashtag is used as permission for a brand to repost that original photo. The majority of Instagram users do it on purpose – who wouldn’t benefit from a shout out from giant brands such as Nike, Starbucks, or Disneyland? Although your brand may not be as large as those iconic moguls, it is still important to be safe rather than sorry. 

The Issue

No one can ‘own’ a hashtag, no matter how specific. You may be the only brand or page using that hashtag, but it is not yours. Using a specific hashtag as a way to give permission for reposting will not circumvent any copyright infringement.

As far as reposting an image, Instagram states multiple times in their Terms of Use that this is not allowed. They also state that any violation could result in a disabled, or discontinued account.

Do not repost content that is not your own.


However, they’re not going to make a stink if both the original poster and the re-posting source are happy. Usually, a complaint is avoided by giving credit to the original poster. Nothing bad has happened (yet), but all it takes is a single person with too much time on their hands to make your life a legal living SoMe hell. Don’t let it happen to you.

Here’s what you can do to eliminate the potential risk:

The Solution

Cover your butt. It may seem redundant and time consuming at first, but it needs to be done.

1. Ask Permission

Always ask the original poster for permission for use of their photo to share it on your social platforms, even if they have already tagged it with your brand hashtag. Post your permission request on the photo you wish to repost. Let them know that they will receive credit for the photo.

2. Wait

Wait for their response. Do not use their photo before they give explicit permission.

3. Keep Track

If the user agrees to the reposting terms you have proposed (most will), take a screenshot of the interaction for documentation purposes. This will justify any possible foul play in the future if the original poster complains about the reposting of their photo. This will also protect your brand if the original poster tampers with or deletes the comment section where your interaction took place. Keep a running document (Google Doc or otherwise) on which users have allowed permission for reposting of their photos.

4. Give Credit

Always give credit to the original poster by tagging their handle when you decide to use their photo.  It is best to give them credit within the copy you write on the photo, instead of the comments.

5. Look Into the Future

If you find yourself returning to that original poster for more photos, it may be in your best interest to ask the influencer for permission to repost their future content they tag with your brand hashtag. Let them know you will always give them credit on each photo you decide to use. After the user agrees to this, take another screenshot of that interaction and keep it safe. Keep track in the running document you have created on who gives permission to repost their future content.

What about Instagram contests?

You can certainly run a contest on Instagram using a hashtagged photo as the method of entry. Where it gets a little sticky is if you want to repost these images on your brands social channels. You have to ensure it is clearly stated in your terms and conditions that your brand has the right to repost photos submitted with a particular hashtag. That's not all though, an entrant HAS to accept the terms and conditions to make the statement valid. Sure, it adds a small barrier to entry, but it keeps the legal fees down should someone decide to take action.

That does it.

What do you think? Should Instagram crackdown on this process more than they currently are? Share your opinions with us on Twitter @sparkloft.