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Is Using Customer Photos for Advertising Legal? UGC Explained

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UGC without infringing on any rights

In today's digital world, seeing customers posting photos about their brand experiences on social media is expected. And if your customers are like that, you might be thinking about leveraging their images, also known as user-generated content, for your advertising purposes. Some companies have already been doing that anyway—why not yours?  

But should you? And more importantly, are you actually allowed to do that?

Let's delve into the legality of using customer photos as a form of advertising and explore how to navigate the tricky waters of UGC without infringing on any rights. Before that let's learn some basic terms.  

What is User-Generated Content?

The term user-generated content (UGC) doesn’t only refer to customer photos. The term can cover any kind of content that a customer posts on their social media, such as:

  • Videos
  • Reviews of a service or product
  • Testimonials
  • Podcasts

UGC is basically anything that’s originally made by customers or by anyone who doesn’t represent your brand or business officially. 

It is important to understand that copyright laws protect most forms of content posted online. As soon as someone snaps a photo or crafts a review, they automatically own the copyright to that content. This means they have exclusive rights to determine how and where it is used.

In the context of UGC, this can become a legal minefield for brands who wish to use this content in their advertising. Unauthorized use could potentially result in a copyright infringement lawsuit, and not to mention damage to the brand's reputation.

What are the benefits of UGC?

You may be curious about the reasons for utilizing UGC. Here are some advantages of incorporating user content into your brand strategy:

Your brand will feel more authentic and trustworthy: In today's world, people appreciate real experiences and genuine interactions. When potential customers see regular people—not models or paid endorsers—using and enjoying your products or services, it builds trust and credibility. The fact that these individuals in the UGC are not paid to endorse your brand makes it even more relatable to the audience.

UGC is powerful social proof: When customers see others using and endorsing your products, it reinforces the idea that your brand is reliable and worth using or buying. This social proof can influence potential customers to follow suit and make a purchase.

You build customer engagement and loyalty: Featuring UGC means you value your customers’ contributions. This makes them feel appreciated and fosters a sense of belonging. As a result, they are more likely to become loyal to your brand and even advocate for it with their friends and families.

It's cost-effective for your company: Instead of constantly organizing expensive photo shoots, you can use the pool of content created by your customers. And the more customers you have, you'll get perse perspectives and experiences to showcase on your channels.

Customer photos for Advertising

Is it legal to incorporate UGC into your campaigns?

Generally, it is—if you go about it the proper way. Just because you have a customer who posts content about your product or service doesn't mean you can use it. Ownership still belongs to the person who took it.

You have two ways of getting permission to showcase UGC.

Implicit Permission

Implicit permission is when you run a contest or a hashtag campaign to encourage people to post content about your brand. Part of your messaging to them is that you will use their content on your website or social media pages. And by joining the contest, participants understand they’re allowing your brand to use whatever they come up with. 

This way, you don’t have to request rights to showcase their photos or videos. However, remember that some people may not realize they're permitting you when joining. That's why it still might be better to ask for:

Explicit Permission

Explicit permission involves seeking consent to share UGC through your channels without any contest or event involved. This usually happens when you find relevant content associated with your brand by browsing through its hashtags and want to use it. The most effective approach is to contact users directly and inquire about reposting their content. 

Send them a direct message, email them, or even leave a comment on the specific content you intend to use. To establish your authenticity, use your brand's official profile.

What if you’re not given permission?

Finding other UGC to showcase is better if a user says no to using their content. If you still use their content despite their objections, you will likely end up in court and lose the case. You probably want to avoid dealing with a legal battle.

Other Best Practices For Incorporating UGC In Your Advertising

Aside from asking for permission from the content’s owner to use their picture, there are other things you need to take note of, such as:

Always Say In Detail What You Plan To Do

Aside from getting their consent, it would be best if you detailed your plan for their content. For example, you might want to use an image upscale or cut the photo out and place it somewhere else. Tell them also how long you will use the image.

Never Ask To Use The Image For Free

Some people are okay with it if their work is used for free, but not all. Remember, you're going to be making money off of the image. Therefore, you should avoid assuming you can use it for free. 

Don't be offended if the creator asks you how much you will pay. And even if they're willing to let you use it without pay, your asking is a gesture they can appreciate.

Always Credit The Creator

Another gesture people would appreciate is if you credit them whenever you use their image. Ask them how they want to be credited and tag their accounts on your social media pages. This adds to their wanting to share that they've been tagged, which means more eyes on your product.

Have A Legal Agreement With The Content Creator

Even if the creator said yes, have them sign a contract. It's a good idea to involve a lawyer to ensure the agreement is enforceable and legally binding.

While it may be time-consuming, consider it a way to protect yourself. If the creator has a change of heart or becomes unhappy with how you use the content, having a signed agreement can prevent them from taking legal action against you.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating user-generated content in your advertising campaigns effectively makes your brand relatable and increases customer loyalty. And yes, using UGC is legal—if you ask the creator for permission to use their photos. 

While doing this and adhering to legal requirements–and even paying them–may involve investments of time and money on your part, the value gained from incorporating UGC into your advertising campaigns makes the hard work worth it. Embrace this opportunity to better connect with your customers and amplify your brand's impact through the power of UGC.

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