Advice: screenshots

Whether/when/how to use them, risks and alternatives.

[Image: Print Screen key] How/when to use screenshots. [Chris Millson, CC BY 4.0]

Some of you used screenshots in digisoc1. Because you are communicating publicly, there are some issues/risks with this.

If you received feedback on screenshots in digisoc1, you will not have lost many marks, but you may need to develop for digisoc3, where this is more important. There is plenty of time to practise, develop and ask questions. Remember, the course tutors are here to help — by email and in the sessions.

“But the internet is powered by screenshots and cat pics!”
[Image: A cat] You have freedom in the images you use but you should show that you understand how to use them correctly. [Chris Millson, used with permission]

We do not ban you from using screenshots (or cat pics). Certain screenshots are fine; some are more risky. There are times when it is appropriate to use screenshots and times when there are better alternatives. There are better/worse ways to use screenshots. If you choose to use them, you need to show you understand the issues and have considered the risks.

In most cases, the risks of using screenshots are low. It is unlikely that someone will take action against you for publishing an image of their Tweet. If you publish a screenshot of content which has a financial value (e.g. a paid-for ebook or paid-for stock photo), it’s more likely you’ll get in trouble. However, being low risk doesn’t mean it is necessarily good online/academic practice.

This post helps you to improve your understanding and skills by exploring some of the issues/risks, alternatives, deciding whether to use screenshots and how to use them well. You will learn most through practice; try some of these things in your comments on Topic posts, Mini Mission 2, or just publishing your ideas to Medium — and ask for feedback/advice.

Why is it important?

Understanding issues of intellectual property will be useful in this unit, likely other areas of your studies, your career, and life. It is directly relevant to learning outcome 4, and indirectly relevant to all learning outcomes. If you’re interested in a career involving communication — e.g. journalism, marketing, PR, social media, technology, science communication, writing, and many, many more — this skill will be very handy. Many people learn this on the job, but having an awareness before you graduate can be a big advantage.

How does this relate to assessment?

[Image: Gauges] Assessment. Freeimages.com licence

Because this is relevant to the learning outcomes of the course, you will be assessed on it.

You may have had some feedback on this through digisoc1 to help you develop. Building up your understanding in this area can help you to gain more from this course, and perform better in assessment. The main area where this is important is digisoc3.

Most significantly, digisoc3 // marking criterion 2 is:

Use the internet and social media to develop your communication skills, share information and develop your online profile, with a relevant understanding of issues of intellectual property

You can show your understanding of intellectual property issues through good use of images and embedded media. It is not necessary to use screenshots to show this although if you use them, just as with images/embeds, you should use them appropriately.

Bottom line: Using screenshots with awareness of the issues may get you marks; using them badly or showing lacking awareness may lose you marks. Not using screenshots will not — in itself — gain/lose you any marks. However if you do not use any media, it will be hard to do well on the above criterion.

What do you mean by screenshots?

[Image: Buttons on a monitor] Screenshots. Freeimages.com licence

A screenshot is an image of something which appeared on a screen.

Within this unit, we are talking about screenshots of social media or web content. Some of you used screenshots which you had taken yourselves and some you had found elsewhere on the internet. The below guidance applies whether or not you took the screenshot.

Can I use screenshots in a public online post?

The safe answer is no — but there are alternatives: link or embed. The real answer is it depends. We advise you to be cautious until you understand the below, and please see the University’s Copyright Guidance Service for guidance on all things Copyright — you are free to use this as a student.

To understand this, it’s important to understand how screenshots relate to other people’s work, and copyright…

  • When you take a screenshot, you are making a copy of someone else’s work. This is a bit like photocopying part of a book. You may be able to do this (take a screenshot), within limits, for your own educational use.
  • If you scan part of a book and share it online, you are distributing a copy of someone else’s work. This is more serious than taking a copy privately, because you are sharing it in public. You are generally not allowed to do this, and could get in trouble. The same generally applies to screenshots. If you share a screenshot of my Tweet online, Twitter or I might not like that. That said, using screenshots is common practice and in most cases is very low risk. However, it’s not just about risk, but academic integrity too.

What are the alternatives?

[Image: Chain links]. Linking to screenshots. Freeimages.com licence

Instead of using screenshots, use links. Just as you could link to a book on Amazon (instead of pirating it by sharing a PDF), you can link to a Tweet (instead of pirating it as a screenshot). Linking is just pointing to something and does not involve copying it. It may seem silly to think about pirating Tweets, but my Tweet is my work (like the words of a tiny book), and the rest of the screenshot is Twitter’s work (like the cover art etc.)

If you want the content (e.g. the full Tweet) to display within your post, you can embed. Put the link on a separate line in Medium and hit enter. Other platforms may be different — Medium is very simple. This is fine because the Tweet is displayed straight from Twitter — you are not making a copy. It’s still just pointing to the content without reproducing, so it’s OK. However if you use a screenshot, you’re reproducing it, and you should avoid that.

The same applies to a lot of different social media content. E.g. Instagram pictures, YouTube videos, Facebook posts. Just get a link to the content and link to it/embed it. To get a link to a social media post, find it using a web browser, then click the date/time to get a direct link. Or, find it in an app and share it to your email address (or ‘copy link to clipboard’), to get the link.

There are lots of reasons other than copyright why linking/embedding is a good idea. If I edit a Facebook post, a screenshot will not update, but an embed will. This is respectful to me as the author. Providing a link also means people can view/add replies, find related content and verify that it is genuine. Screenshots can be faked, so they do not have credibility. A link/embed is much easier to verify.

What if there is no link, or the content is private?

[Image: person camouflaged in foil] Sharing private content? gratisography.com licence.

If you want to refer to time-limited or private content, or content which can only be viewed through a certain app — e.g. Snapchat/private Tweet — you cannot link to/embed it. This is for good reason — the content is meant to be private (or restricted by time/app) so you should respect this. Don’t disobey this by taking a screenshot, unless you are sure you have permission.

Generally if you find it difficult to link to/embed content, that tells you something about the content, so you should think about this and consider how appropriate it would be to publish a screenshot. If you want to talk about how a company uses Snapchat, talk about the way they use it without resharing an image of their content — unless you have permission.

What if I really need to use a screenshot?

There are exceptions to copyright, and so it is possible to argue Fair Dealing when reproducing others’ work (although this does not include photographs). This can be applied to screenshots, but whether it protects you depends on a few factors. You can read the law here, and check the Copyright Guidance Service link above. We recommend you always embed/link when you can, to avoid unnecessary risk. In general the risk will be low — but it very much depends on whose work you are reproducing and how much they care. E.g. if it is paid content, as above, you are more likely to get in trouble.

There may be cases where you feel you need to refer to content to support your analysis, and there’s no way to link/embed. In these cases you should review the link above, and think about the rights of the author(s), and any other ethical issues. If the screenshot is essential for the purposes of criticism, review or quotation, then you might choose to use it — but make sure you state your purpose (e.g. “Image used for review/criticism”) and acknowledge the original author(s) of the content shown in the screenshot.

If you do use a screenshot, you should add the date it was taken, and link to the source where you got it.

I’m not sure!

If you’re not sure, it’s safer not to risk it, especially as there are good alternatives (embedding/linking/describing). As you go through this unit, you can develop your understanding of copyright, and ‘good practice’, and understand when it might be more/less risky to use screenshots.


If you have any questions about any of the above, please contact the course tutors.

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