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The Tangles of Copyright Law and Instagram Reels


The pandemic inspired lockdown has resulted in people participating in varied social media trends. Instagram reels is a prime example of such trends. The categorical fame acquired by Tiktok and its subsequent ban in the Indian sub-continent has been a major contributing factor in the pervasion of these Reels. A prominent copyright issue during the Covid pandemic emerged as a consequence of the posting of Reels.


Reels are currently the predominant social media trend across the globe. The feature is offered by the Facebook-owned platform, Instagram which allows its users to create short and entertaining videos. The feature was introduced in August 2020 and allows the users to record and edit mini video clips for as long as 1 minute. This feature is accompanied by various creative tools such as audio and video effects, etc.

An Instagram Reel allows the users to access the Instagram music library or alternatively add an original audio to a video clip created by the user and share it on their accounts. This music library comprises various songs and sounds which have already been released by music artists, labels, etc. Now, if the user chooses to add an original audio, there exists no question of potential infringement. But an audio file accessed from Instagram's music library raises a question regarding the permissibility of these pre-existing sounds whose copyright are already owned by their creators.


The Instagram terms and conditions have a stringent set of rules for protection of Intellectual property rights. The organisation advises posting only original content to ensure that no rights are infringed. If any user believes that their rights are being violated by any post on the platform, the platform’s help centre provides for a form which is to be filled with the details of the impugned infringement. The Copyright policy of the organisation provides for a set of actions which may lead to infringement. Additionally, the policy also insists upon a written permission or a license in case the user wants to post someone else’s copyrighted content. While Instagram has a strict anti-infringement policy, it also provides the accused with a chance to be heard in the form of an appeal submitted to the organisation. But in cases of repeated infringement, the copyright policy includes a provision for disabling the user’s page for continuous violations or alternatively limit the user’s access to the features provided by Instagram.


While Instagram has a strict policy against users posting copyrighted content on their accounts, the introduction of Reels has caused a confusion due to the copyrighted audio provided in its library. A commonly asked question is whether use of these audio clips even for 15-30 seconds results in an infringement? And the answer is Yes. Any copyrighted content being released in the public will be considered as an infringement with a caveat that such publication is done without the consent of the work’s owner. Instagram has entered into various agreements with the music industry which allows them to post copyrighted audios without infringing the owner’s rights. While the details of such agreements are confidential and not publicly available, in a post by Instagram, the organization had clarified that the built-in library of the reels which permit creation of short-form content is allowed and entirely legal. But it is essential that the Reels’ audio is posted accompanying a visual component. Fulfilment of this requirement is essential as per the organization’s agreements with the rights holders.


While the audio used in Reels does not violate the copyright laws, the visual component of the same is also questioned. Social media trends are known to be notorious for triggering a herd mentality and Instagram reels is a prime example. With the popularization of reels, an accompanying social trend which has gathered fame displays a reenacted choreography to a specific audio. Users, in this case, perform and post a short 15-30 seconds choreography which has already been performed and posted by a social media influencer or any artist on the platform. This raises the concern of copyright infringement of the dance choreography.

While this issue has not been widely raised, the copyrighting of dance moves being used in a social media trend is not unprecedented anymore. Keara Wilson is a TikTok creator who choreographed a set of steps on the song ‘Savage’ by Megan Thee Stallion. The choreography swiftly gained popularity under the hashtag #savagechallenge. Due to such widespread fame, the creator filed for registration of her copyright in the “savage” dance choreography by documenting the dance steps with symbols and labanotation. This puts Keara Wilson in a position to claim proper credit as well as payment for the use of her choreography on any public platform as well as a right to legal action in case of infringement.


Thus it may be safely concluded that Instagram has already entered into any and all required agreements with the entities of the music industry to ensure that there is no copyright infringement in dissemination of digital content via Reels. The agreements in question are deemed necessary due to the copyrightability of the content posted.

Further, while the issue regarding potential copyright infringement of choreographies has not yet emerged while using reels, a precedent has been set via the ‘savage’ registration that widens the scope of protection for the content creators using Instagram reels.


  • How to Use Copyright Music on Instagram, 9 June, 2021,

  • Instagram, Copyright,

  • Instagram, Introducing Instagram Reels, august 5, 2020,

  • Instagram, Updates and Guidelines for Including Music in Video Instagram Blog,

  • #SavageChallenge creator Keara Wilson gets copyright to viral TikTok dance, July 30, 2021,


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