the legal resource for fitness entrepreneurs
the legal resource for fitness entrepreneurs

The no.1 mistake fitness athletes are making

It is a big call to name the no.1 mistake fitness athletes are making, but to us it is blinding: the no.1 mistake fitness professionals are making is not understanding copyright – both your rights for intellectual property you own and their responsibilities for images, documents, music and other forms of copyrighted materials owned by others.

But I don’t “steal,” you say.

Have you ever “reposted” an image of yourself from a competition, taken by the official event photographer? Did you have permission to use the image? In writing? From the Copyright owner? Maybe you’ve even (cringe) posted the images from the marathon you proudly finished with the photographer’s name or proof emblazoned across the images.

Copyright Infringement is no joke. Wait, you say, I always give credit to the photographer. Isn’t that enough?

Credit is Not Enough

Giving credit does not negate copyright infringement. Say it again. Credit is not enough. If there has been unauthorized use of an image, then there has been copyright infringement. You should know that even if you realize that you have made a mistake, removing the image does not change that you committed copyright infringement – you may want to offer to purchase a license to cover the use you have already made. This is because you have already benefited from the use of the image, and compensation for the unauthorized use of the image can be claimed by the copyright owner.

While we’re on the topic, your intentions don’t matter. You might even be inclined to say that you have good intentions, that you’re sharing the image to support the brand or the photographer or the event, but this also is not a defense for copyright infringement. All commercial activity is held to the same standards – the motive for copyright infringement does not change the facts.

But wait, did you also know that you have rights when it comes to images taken of you?

Right of publicity

Brands and even events don’t automatically have the right to use images of you in advertising and promotion. You retain what are called “publicity rights” to your own likeness. We’ve written about what it means when brands use images of identifiable people in their advertising: but in short, just because you are wearing a brand’s product in an image you own doesn’t mean they have a right to post or repost that image (unless you have given them a license covering their publicity rights). This goes double for images you own or have taken of yourself.

If you are concerned about the use of images of you and images for which you own copyright, then reach out to an attorney familiar with the fitness industry and intellectual property law. You should be protecting yourself from unauthorized use of your likeness – not just because the law allows for it, but also because you never know where those images could end up down the road. It is not unheard of for athletes to find an image of themselves on a billboard advertising a brand they’ve never ever heard of or had any contact with.

Copyright for Images you have taken

If a brand or anyone else uses an image of you or an image you own without permission, you have some choices to make about how to handle that – read this article for advice on responding a brand that has used your image.  Whatever you decide, please know that whatever you agree to or the brand offers doesn’t change that they committed copyright infringement.

Responsibilities when it comes to Copyrighted Material as a Fitness Professional or Fitness Athlete

  • Unless you have purchased a commercial license or have received written permission from the copyright owner, you cannot publish images of yourself on your website or social media taken by someone else.
  • Purchasing copies of images or image files from photographers does not mean you own copyright to those images. You may simply have purchased a license to download and store those images for personal use.
  • You should not submit images for which you are not the copyright owner or have a commercial license which permits it to competitions or to magazines, websites or other publications.
  • You should protect the copyright to images you do own – this allows you to show that you have not abandoned those images or the rights that attach to them.

We see you, fitness athlete, thinking that this social media thing isn’t a big deal, and you want us to go away and leave you to your #gymselfie in peace. But here’s the thing, you’re happy to take on a brand ambassador role here and there, you love the free product, but thinking that not marketing like a business might, that laws relating to copyright infringement don’t apply to you.

If you’re receiving product (or even a hefty discount not available to the general public), financial compensation, or sharing affiliate links in your social media feed, blog, or website, your online activities will likely be found to be commercial activity. Examples of this include reposting images of athletes or products – even if you’re saying nice things about them, your reposting could be considered endorsement (and may also be trademark infringement) and they may not want to be associated with you (even if you’re giving them free advertising). Finding yourself the subject of a federal copyright infringement suit is not my idea of a good time.

Fitness Influencers are being increasingly scrutinized. We want to make sure you have the information you need to protect yourself and your business.

The no.1 mistake fitness athletes are making

About the author

Anna Blanch Rabe is a communications consultant, writer, and speaker. A non-practicing attorney, she works with social impact businesses and non-profit organizations to develop and effectively execute narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, and reach new customers. A former college level athlete, she now enjoys yoga and swimming, and crewing for her trail and ultrarunning husband.

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