Social Media Quotes, Music and Photo Copyrights

We see them all the time on social, inspiration quotes meant to get our fingers tapping that like button. People relate to them and share them with their friends almost as much as memes. The question is, if you’re a brand, can you legally use the quotes? Most of us are used to music copyrights, products and photos but quotes don’t seem to trigger the same “is this legal?” question.


**Please see our updated post for a more complete review of copyright rules and fair use by brands on social media.** 

According to US copyright law, legal rights to a quote belong, by default, to the author or speaker. The quotes are considered intellectual property and protected under law. If you are not the original author of a quote, one of two things must be true to use it freely on social media.

  • You have written permission from the author; or
  • The quote is no longer owned and considered public domain

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Giving attribution to an author’s quote does not make it legal to use, however it is recommended that you always give attribution and not pass work off as your own- even if it’s in public domain or you have written permission to use.


If the quote isn’t being used to sell a product and simply being posted on social media, it could be argued that use is allowed. Courts consider whether the use of copyrighted material is a commercial or non-commercial use, but that’s only one of the factors considered in evaluating a fair use defense. Something to note is that any social media post by a brand could be considered an advertisement, whether the brand is trying to sell something with that one post or not.

Translation: Don’t use a quote if you don’t have written permission or it’s not in public domain. Better safe than sorry when dealing with legal issues. Penalties for copyright infringement are high and can reach up to $150k for each work infringed. While the likelihood of being sued for repeating someone else’s words as a quote are low, it’s still a risk.

While planning out your content, try your own words! If you can’t get away from using an existing quote, make sure you check that it’s not copywritten. Questions? We’re here to help.

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