Can You Use Instagram Photos Without Permission? Evaluating Public Domain on Instagram

Generally, no, you cannot use Instagram photos without permission. Doing so may infringe on the copyright of the photo’s owner.

Here’s why:

  • Copyright: Most photos on Instagram are protected by copyright, which gives the owner exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and adapt their work. Using a photo without permission violates their copyright.
  • Instagram Terms of Use: Instagram’s terms of use prohibit users from posting content that infringes on the intellectual property rights of others. This includes using photos without permission.

However, there are a few exceptions where using Instagram photos without permission may be acceptable:

  • Fair use: Under copyright law, there is a concept called “fair use” which allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.
  • Public domain: If a photo is in the public domain, it is not protected by copyright and can be used freely.
  • Permission from the owner: If you have explicit permission from the owner of the photo, you can use it.

It’s important to be cautious and err on the side of getting permission before using someone else’s photo on Instagram.

If you’re unsure about the copyright status of a photo, it’s best to contact the owner directly or find another photo to use.

Overview of Public Domain Material

Public domain refers to creative works not protected by copyright, giving the public broad usage rights without needing authorization. For a work to be in the public domain it must:

  • Have an expired or lapsed copyright term.
  • Have been released directly into public domain by the creator.
  • Lack sufficient originality to qualify for copyright.
  • Originate in a country without copyright laws on the books.
  • Have failed to properly follow copyright renewal procedures (pre-1978 works).

Simply being accessible online does not automatically equate to public domain status. Copyright and licensing still apply in most cases.

Instagram Content and Licensing

When you share any photo or video on Instagram, whether taken by you or someone else, Instagram states in its Terms of Use that you:

  • Grant Instagram an unconditional non-exclusive license to commercially reuse that content.
  • Must have the rights to upload and share any copyright-protected content in that post.

This means you must own or gain usage rights to a photo before sharing it – whether through public domain status or explicit copyright holder permission. Instagram’s license does not supersede individual image rights.

Instagram Content and Licensing

Evaluating Public Domain Status of an Instagram Photo

Merely being posted on Instagram does not release a photo into the public domain. But specific attributes may indicate public domain eligibility:

Authorship and Date

  • Was the photo taken by you, making you the copyright holder able to release rights?
  • Is the image dated prior to 1925, indicating likely copyright expiration?

These points may confirm you can declare the image in the public domain should you wish.

Third Party Usage Rights Statements

  • Does the poster’s caption explicitly state it is public domain or available for reuse?
  • Is the photo associated with Creative Commons licensing terms in the caption or direct watermark allowing usage if attributed?

Affirmative free usage statements may greenlight reuse, provided you comply with any requested citations.

Lack of Originality

  • Is the photo simply a pure fact depiction like a blank page, landscape, geometric shape, plate of food, etc. with no distinctive creative attributes?

Photos merely documenting unembellished reality often lack sufficient originality for copyright eligibility.

Government Works

  • Was the photo created by a government agency in the course of public duties? Works of the federal U.S. government (but not state/local) fall immediately into the public domain.

Absent strong evidence confirming public domain status, however, assume Instagram photos require permission for legal usage. Most often, they do not constitute free public domain material.

Potential Cases of Copyright Infringement

Reproducing or distributing an Instagram photo you or your brand did not create risks copyright infringement if done without permission in contexts like:

  • Embedding or sharing a post directly on a website or blog without consent. Instagram embedding is permitted but reproducing full-resolution copies is not.
  • Using an Instagram photo in a book, advertisement, film, app, presentation, or other commercial work without securing rights.
  • Altering or adapting an Instagram photo to use as your own, like creating a vector tracing without permission. This qualifies as an unauthorized derivative work.
  • Printing an Instagram photo on merchandise like t-shirts or mugs and selling them without permission.

These uses clearly violate copyright and licensing terms. Instagram’s policies expressly prohibit unauthorized commercial usage of their users’ photos.

Securing Licensing Rights for Instagram Photos

To legally reuse an Instagram picture or video in your own commercial, editorial, or personal contexts, you must secure direct usage rights by:

  • Reading the caption and interacting with the poster in comments or direct message to request permission for your specific intended use of their content.
  • Licensing the image through established commercial photo licensing platforms like Getty Images if offered by the photographer.
  • Utilizing photos from brands who commonly permit republication with guidelines like attribution. Consult their caption terms.
  • Commissioning or purchasing photos from creators directly for commercial projects.
  • Utilizing images licensed under Creative Commons that explicitly allow free use when properly credited per individual terms.

With direct permission or provable licensing, you can integrate and reproduce Instagram photos legally and ethically.

Best Practices Summary

  • Never assume Instagram content is in the public domain and free for the taking. Copyrights continue protecting photos.
  • Carefully vet images for evidence like date, third party statements, and originality before concluding public domain status.
  • Obtain clear usage rights through direct permissions, content licenses, or provable Creative Commons terms.
  • Attribute works used via Instagram as you would for other photography sources. Credit both the social platform and photographer handle when possible.
  • If ever uncertain of usage rules, take the safest approach and request authorization from the copyright holder directly.

With a responsible approach and due diligence confirming licensing permissions, Instagram can provide a vibrant source of imagery.

But blindly reusing photos absent owner consent remains an easy route to serious copyright disputes for brands and individuals. Confirm rights before tapping into Instagram’s visual abundance.


The value of Instagram ads for a business hinges on factors like target audience and strategic execution. With its expansive user base and visual appeal, Instagram offers potential for effective engagement.

However, success requires careful planning, ongoing optimization, and integration into a broader marketing strategy.

While Instagram ads can enhance brand awareness and engagement, their effectiveness varies.

Businesses should assess their goals, allocate resources wisely, and continuously evaluate performance to determine if Instagram ads align with long-term objectives.


Can I use an Instagram photo on a commercial website without permission?

No, you need direct authorization from the photographer or provable usage rights before reproducing an Instagram photo for commercial purposes.

Does saying it’s public domain in the caption make an Instagram photo free to use?

If the poster who uploaded the photo affirmatively states it is public domain or available for reuse in the caption, that may convey permission to utilize the image accordingly.

Can I share or retweet a photo from someone’s Instagram post?

You are allowed to embed and share the original Instagram post if you want to republish the content and keep it in its original context.

Can I use an Instagram photo if I don’t sell it or make money?

No, copyright protections apply equally to commercial and noncommercial usage. You still need permission for any public redistribution or display of someone else’s photo.

If it’s a picture of a celebrity, can I use it freely?

No, photographs of celebrities and public figures are equally protected by copyright law and require the same permissions for usage.
Do your due diligence before repurposing Instagram photos. With some mindfulness, you can tap into their visual storytelling in your own work legally and ethically.

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