Attention brands in social media: Just because you can now use animated GIFs on Facebook doesn’t mean you actually should use animated GIFs on Facebook. Or, to be more specific, you probably shouldn’t post any GIFs featuring scenes from movies, TV shows or celebrity appearances—which negates about 99 percent of the good options out there. For a professional opinion on the issue, we turned to attorney Michael McSunas, one of the legal field’s top social media experts and senior counsel for marketing at Chrysler (though he notes that the following are his opinions, not those of Chrysler).
McSunas says the only way to post an animated GIF of a celebrity on your business page without risking legal trouble would be to get the permission of everyone featured in the clip, the copyright holder of the original recording and (just to be safe) the person who actually made the GIF. This applies to GIFs featuring noncelebrities as well.
“It would be a case-by-case basis,” McSunas says, “but if we were going to actually use a GIF, I'd say we'd need consent from the TV show. Or if it's a GIF of someone falling down, we'd want permission from the person falling down. I would treat it like any video. We'd need releases.” Without releases from liability, businesses risk legal action for using a celebrity’s likeness without permission or violating the copyright of a film studio, animator or other content creator. Here are McSunas’ tips for businesses that want to use animated GIFs on their social media channels:
1. Make your own GIFs featuring your own copyrighted materials.
2. If a GIF’s not yours, get written releases from the people featured in it and the copyright holder.
3. Don’t have releases? Consider linking off to the GIF or retweeting someone else’s post rather than embedding it in your own social channels.
4. If you’re making a GIF from a program your business sponsors, be sure you still have permission from the copyright holder.
5. Just because other brands get away with using a GIF, that doesn’t mean you will. And the larger your business, the more likely you are to become a target of legal action.