Are You Allowed to Use Modified Social Media Icons?

Social Media Icons

Here’s a great question that I received recently:

Is it true that custom-made social media icons that match the blog is infringing on copyright laws? I see so many use them but reading Facebook & Twitter’s terms it sounds like it’s illegal to change the icon color? Thanks!

Before I begin, I need to clarify that I am not a lawyer and this post does not constitute legal advice. I can give you my take, my research, and my opinion, but please don’t accept this post as law or legal advice.

That being said…

Social media sites do have policies against modifying their logos

Almost every social media site (at least the big ones) have guidelines and policies for using their logos. They have style guides. Here are a few examples:

The big thing here is that these brands have trademarks on their logos. They have a legal right to control how their logo is represented. For example, here are a few takeaways from the Twitter guidelines:

Usage guidelines

The Twitter marks include, but are not limited to, the Twitter name, logo, the term โ€œTweetโ€ and any word, phrase, image, or other designation that identifies the source or origin of any of Twitterโ€™s products. Do not modify or alter the marks or use them in a confusing way, including suggesting sponsorship or endorsement by Twitter, or in a way that confuses Twitter with another brand. Use our official and unmodified Twitter bird to represent Twitter.

Don’t:

  • Use speech bubbles or words around the bird
  • Rotate or change the direction of the bird
  • Animate the bird
  • Flock the bird with other birds or other creatures
  • Change the color of the bird
  • Overprint or obstruct any part of the bird
  • Anthropomorphize the bird
  • Add special effects to the bird
  • Use old versions or any other marks or logos to represent our brand
Twitter Brand Assets and Guidelines

The important key points are: you cannot modify the logo, you cannot change the color of the bird.

The other social media sites have similar guidelines dictating which colours you can use and they specify that you cannot modify the logo.

Holy crap, will I get in trouble??

These companies could choose to sue you

Legally speaking, they own these logos, they have every right to control how they’re presented, and they COULD choose to sue you if they wanted. But that being said…

Unless you’re making money from modified logos, you’re probably okay

Although these companies COULD sue anyone violating these rules, they probably wouldn’t. First, I think these rules are primarily in place for two reasons:

  1. To regulate how their logos appear in marketing campaigns. So when an advert on TV says “follow us on Twitter”, they want to regulate how that logo appears. These are big, paid marketing campaigns we’re talking about.
  2. To prevent people from making money off of custom, modified versions of their logos.

So my main opinion here is that if you’re a hobbyist blogger who has some modified social media icons in your sidebar to match your design, they probably won’t care.

If you’re selling modified logos on Etsy, they’re more likely to care because suddenly you’re making money off of this illegal behaviour.

Now let me go back to that hobbyist blogger point. Yes there is a small amount of risk in using modified logos, but I don’t see it as a huge risk. Let’s say Facebook does get pissed off at you. Their first step probably won’t be to sue you. Instead, their first step would probably be to send a cease and desist letter. That means they send you a letter saying, “Please stop, you’re violating our policies.” So then you get the letter and stop. No harm done.

It’s up to you to make a judgement call

I’m not recommending that you ignore the law, which would state you’re not allowed to modify these images. All I’m really saying is that YES you’re not allowed to modify them, BUT so many people do. The odds of you getting sued if you’re a hobbyist blogger are extremely low. The odds of you getting sued without first getting a cease and desist letter are even lower.

Do you use modified social media icons on your blog?

Photo of Ashley
I'm a 28 year old California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

Don't miss my next post!

Sign up to get my blog posts sent directly to your inbox (plus exclusive store discounts!).

You might like these

31 comments

    1. The only situations I’ve even heard of are sellers getting kicked off of Etsy for offering custom/modified social media icons. So that’s not even Facebook/Twitter getting mad at them, it’s Etsy covering themselves.

      I think we would have heard of a lot more people actually getting in trouble if it was a super big deal.

    1. I know, right?

      To be fair, I do think the reasoning behind it makes sense. It’s their trademark so they legally control how it can be used/displayed.

      And I also think it makes sense that none of them seem to enforce those rules upon hobbyists who aren’t in it to make money.

  1. Haha, typo to point out mainly because it’s funny (and it’s an important sentence so you might want to fix it for your own sake): “I am now a lawyer and this post does not constitute legal advice.” Wait, you’re a lawyer now? ๐Ÿ˜‰ (It still says this post does NOT constitute legal advice, so it’s okay. But people who don’t come here regularly might get confused!)

    Anyways, interesting topic and one I don’t think many of us think about! I think you’re right, in the end we’re just hobbyist book bloggers. If anything we’ll probably get a warning, and we can fix it.

    Asti @ Oh, the Books! recently posted: Bookish Finds: Leonard Ulian’s Book Art
  2. Wow, what an interesting question. I never even thought about how modifying them might be copy-right infringements. I do see people selling them tho. Do you think that services such as design which includes social media icons (perhaps modified to match the blog) would count as “selling” them? But I do agree that Twitter and Facebook probably have bigger fish to fry than small, non-monetary blogs.

    Rebecca @ The Library Canary recently posted: Top Ten Characters I Wish Would Get Their OWN Book
    1. I mean, like everything else, TECHNICALLY they could choose to sue you for it. But I think it’s not as big of a deal if you’re including custom icons as part of a much larger package (overall blog design). But if all you’re doing is selling custom icons (especially in massive volumes, like premades) then that might be a bigger deal to them.

  3. This post makes so much sense – I always wondered whether I would get in trouble for customizing their logos for my blog, but thanks for the reassurance, Ashley, it really helped. And congratulations on your wedding! Its been a while since I’ve been here, and can I just say I adore your new theme? It’s beautiful, and as always, amazing tips ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks

    Madiha@Symphony of Words recently posted: MY NEW PASSION
  4. I realized this last year when I set up my website and wanted to make cute deconstructed social media icons for my contact page.

    I think your thoughts are spot-on, but as an author I always air on the side of not being sued ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Oh, that’s interesting. I recently designed a website in Photoshop (so just the draft without the coding) for a class, and I ran across that issue. I had no clue it wasn’t actually allowed and then it pissed me off because it looked SO MUCH BETTER with the modified version. Also, I just realized: the subscribe buttons on my blog are modified as well. Now I’m wondering whether I’m liable or the makers of the widget? Technically, I changed the color and its my blog, but they made the widget and added the option of modifying the logo? I hate that everything is so constricted online. I mean of course I understand why those rules are in place, but it sure as hell makes blogging a lot harder. It reminds me of the fair use debate over covers/movie posters and quotes.

    Vlora recently posted: Spotlight: The Imitation Game
  6. So, how do the ones in your themes stack up with this? I’ve heard this before, but came to the conclusion that I’m small potatoes, and I’ll worry about it later (because, way more stuff topping the list of things to worry about right now). But I’ve definitely wondered, when stylized icons show up in paid themes.

    Alena Belleque recently posted: What I Read #3 – Fall 2014
    1. I don’t include social media icons in most of my themes.

      I think the biggest problem is when stylized social media icons are sold on their own. That’s when you’re directly profiting from modifying someone else’s logo/trademark.

      If it’s bundled with a theme, I think that’s less of a big deal because you’re not really profiting off of the social media icons, you’re just matching them to a bigger package.

      (It’s still not technically allowed, but I don’t think they care about it much.)

  7. “That means they send you a letter saying, โ€œPlease stop, youโ€™re violating our policies.โ€ So then you get the letter and stop. No harm done.”

    That is not really how it works. They can indeed sue you right away. Instead, their lawyer will send you a letter. The lawyer will bill you for that (expect a few hundred Dollars). You will also be required to sign that you remove all offending content and that you will never violate their brand rights again. If you don’t sign and pay they will sue you. If they later catch you again after you signed then you will probably pay for the rest of your life.

    It is an interesting question though. Those guidelines exist, and the companies not only want to but are probably even required to protect their brands this way or they will even formally lose them. On the other hand, the logos are altered virtually everywhere including big commercial sites. Getting permission is not an option as e.g. Facebook states in several places. My guess is that they are silently tolerating it but can’t make that their official policy.

    1. Yes I know they can sue you straight away, but given the nature of the situation (big sites, the logos are everywhere) they probably wouldn’t lead with that.

      1. Yes, they seem to be widely tolerating it, and that is interesting. My point was that cease and desist letters are not harmless. Sending those is easy money for some lawyers, and you are basically with your back against the wall: sign and pay or risk a lawsuit.

  8. You walk into a shop. They have a poster on the wall – they’re selling cans of Coke at a discount. Except the poster shows a green jar with the word “Coca-Cola” written across it in a sans-serif font.

    1) You’ve changed the look and feel of the product
    2) You “may” be asked to correct it, if it’s discovered
    3) You’ve wasted time and effort redesigning someone else’s brand when you shouldn’t have bothered in the first place.

    It amazes me that designers still think it’s alright to alter another company’s logo. It’s not. Stop it.

    1. Altering the shape is a big no-no, so you are correct there. But most of what I see in practice is changing the color, or reducing the original logo to a one-color version. Which, to me, isn’t a big deal. In fact, flat one-color versions are 99% of the time included in a brand’s visual guidelines. I work for a studio that creates visual guidelines for brands. It’s a huge part of our bread and butter, so I consider myself experienced with this sort of thing. And wouldn’t you know it — the companies for whom we make these guidelines tend to break the rules that they’ve paid us to make for them. ยฏ\_(ใƒ„)_/ยฏ

      So, if someone alters the shape – that’s a disservice to the brand and to you. Using an altered shape of an icon makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Not to mention it looks like a knock-off version of what you’re actually trying to convey. And tends to look stupid. (Don’t you DARE stretch that logo!)

      But altering the color – not worth the litigious effort, imo.

  9. So… What are you saying? I can’t use Facebook’s social media icon on my T-shirt? I was going to make a T-shirt where their “f” in the square (or circle) would appear amongst other things. It wasn’t even going to be a 1:1 copy, but a stylized remake.

    Are you sure I can’t… ‘Cause that sucks!

Recent Posts

    Random Posts