As a blogger, you need to be familiar with image copyright. Get an understanding of what images you can use on your blog and what is not allowed.
In my early days of blogging, I was really intimidated by all the beautiful photos that I saw on other people's blogs.
My life, my home, and even my food were no where near as interesting and beautiful as everything that I saw online.
And let's not even talk about my photography skills.
How could I possibly make my blog as visually interesting as everyone else?
Then I started to realize that these bloggers did not take all the photos themselves.
These bloggers used photos from many sources. They used
- stock photos – both free and paid for
- their own photography
- and photos from other websites.
Photos from other websites? Was this ok? Could they use other peoples photos on their blog?
The short answer is NO – not without explicit permission.
Understand Image Copyright Laws
Image copyright is becoming a big deal and bloggers are the ones with the most to lose.
I will start with this disclaimer – I am NOT a lawyer. If you have any legal issues surrounding image copyright, consult professional legal counsel. This article is a summary of my research on the topic.
Who Owns a Photo
The original creator is the person who owns the copyright to an image.
That would be the person who took the picture.
They get to determine how that photo is used.
This article on Social Media Examiner actually explains image copyright really well.
My point is, that if you didn't take the photo, then you need permission from the owner to use it.
People Pictured in Your Photo Have Rights Too
Even if you take the photo yourself, the subject or person in your picture has rights too.
According to this FAQ on NOLO
Apparently, the right of publicity involves using a photo of a person for commercial purposes without their permission.
The word commercial can mean selling products or services for a profit.
Bloggers use affiliate marketing and advertising on their sites – so this could apply.
To complicate matters even further, the rules can vary by country.
Photographing Property Give Rise to Copyright Issues
Copyright can even apply to the places things that you photograph.
Things like public or private property, works of art, statues etc all have strings attached.
The rules are so complicated that I can't even describe it intelligently.
But this interview with an attorney that specializes in the needs of photographers was very enlightening. It is worth the read.
Where To Get Images To Use On Your Blog
So where can you find images to use on your blog without worry?
Take Your Own Photos
Your safest bet is to take your own photos because you own the copyright to these pictures.
You still, obviously, have to be aware of the rights of the people and the places pictured in your photos.
If your photography skills aren't up to par, you can easily read a book or take a course to learn about things like lighting and composition.
Beyond that, you can use a photo editing program like Picmonkey to brighten and touch things up.
Buy Stock Photos With the Correct License
If I don't take a photo myself, I like to use stock photos that I have paid for.
Keep in mind that when you buy a stock photo – you are not buying the copyright.
You are just purchasing a license to use that photo.
So, you need to understand the terms of the license that you are purchasing.
Some licenses are generous an allow use of the image just about any way you might want to use it.
Other licenses are more restrictive and require attribution, or limit the use of the image in print or logos.
Some licenses don't even allow commercial use.
Also be aware that licenses can change over time. Creative Market just updated their license categories – and the new Personal license is quite different than the old Standard one.
Personally, I use stock photos from:
- Haute Stock and
- Deposit Photos
Use Free Stock Photos
There are many sites that offer free stock photos.
I don't like to use these too much because I am afraid of interpreting the license incorrectly.
On top of that, it is time consuming to become familiar with different licenses from different sources.
Many of these free photos are licensed under a Creative Commons license. There are a few different types of Creative Commons licenses and each one has different rules of usage.
Two popular free stock photography sites that bloggers like to use are:
- Unsplash – you can find their license terms and conditions here, and
- Pixabay – the Pixabay license terms and usage rules can be found here
Using Other People's Photos
This is where things get a little murky.
Let's say you blog about home decor and are doing a post about beautiful living rooms.
You, personally, probably have only one living room of your own to photograph.
So, naturally you might want to include photos from other blogs.
In my opinion, the only way to do this is to reach out to the other bloggers and ask for explicit, written permission to use their photo on your blog.
Not only that, but you need to make sure that they own the copyright to their photo (meaning that the photo is not a stock photo or does not belong to someone else) and that they have the authority to grant you that permission.
When you write your post (after you have permission) you should always include a link back to the other bloggers post where the original image appears.
Do NOT Use A Photo From Google Images!
This post by Roni Loren outlines every bloggers worst nightmare.
She used a photo she found through Google Images to illustrate a post and was subsequently sued by the photographer.
She was wrong to use a copyrighted work, even if she wasn't aware of the copyright – but she paid dearly for her mistake.
Roni doesn't disclose her penalty but she does say that it was and I quote “A significant chunk of money that I couldn't afford.”
The Content Factory found itself in a similar situation and the initial lawsuit was for $8,000 although they negotiated it down to $3,000.
As a blogger, those numbers are horrifying.
A personal blog often generates very little revenue.
What if you link to the original source?
Not good enough.
What if you take down the photo when asked?
Not good enough.
In fact, learning from Roni's story, there is not much you can do once you use the photo – no matter what your intentions.
And even if you were right in your usage – the cost of defending yourself is high.
How Should You React If Someone Uses Your Image on Their Blog?
I am writing this more from a blogger's perspective which is different from that of a professional photographer.
Let's say you take a great photo of the smoothie that you made this morning and put the recipe on your blog.
Another blogger includes your smoothie photo in their round up post and links back to your website.
Then someone else comes along and pins your photo from the other blogger's round up post onto Pinterest.
Now your photo links back to someone else's site.
Should you be upset?
I don't think so.
Don't Ignore the Benefits of a Backlink
As a blogger, you actually get search engine juju if people link back to your site.
If someone uses your photo on their site, talks about the photo in their own words, and links back to the original source – you get a link back to your site from a reputable site and media exposure.
In the internet world a link back from a reputable site is very powerful.
- It helps your site rank higher in the search results.
- It helps others to discover your site.
- It may increase sharing on social networks.
- All of the above can result in increased traffic to your site.
That is how the internet evolved in the first place.
Any traffic lost from Pinterest will be more than made up from the overall increase in search engine juice over time.
How To Avoid Image Copyright Issues on Your Blog
Remember, I am not a lawyer but these seem like reasonable steps to me.
Revisit and Clean Up Your Old Posts
As a blogger, it's time to clean house.
Go back through your old posts and make sure that you have the rights to display every single image.
Document where the source of the image and the license as well.
You can use a plain old spreadsheet to do this or an app like Trello.
Set Terms for the Photos on Your Blog
Put yourself on both ends of the stick.
If you post your own photos – create a photo use policy for your website.
Let other people know what is ok and what isn't.
I LOVE the copyright notice that Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen has posted at the bottom of her sidebar.
It makes it so easy for other bloggers to know what media they can use safely and how to do so.
My guess is that this simple notice boosts links back to her site and strengthens it.
Abby at Just a Girl and Her Blog – also provides a similar copyright notice in her sidebar.
Clean Up Your Old, Abandoned Blogs
This is where people might be particularly vulnerable.
If you have old blogs sitting around from before the days of Flickr and Pinterest, or when Creative Commons was not common knowledge, then you need to reexamine the posts that you wrote way back when.
Either delete the blog or comb through the images to make sure you have license to use them.
Image Copyright is Complicated
As you can see, there is no simple answer as to what images you can use on your blog.
Your safest bet is to take your own or use stock photos that come with generous usage licenses.
And ALWAYS ask for written permission to use someone else's photo on your blog.