Every day we search for just the right photo for our post on our blog, Facebook or Google+ from a wide variety of sources. But do you have the legal right to use the photo just because it’s online? No. Can you get in trouble for this? Yes. Let’s look at what you can and can’t do to remain a good citizen of the web.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that just because the photo is online that you can post it anywhere. That is NOT true. Don’t do it.
Can I post a photo from Pinterest and put the link to Pinterest as the photo credit? No.
From attorney Sara Hawkins: attribution does not make it right.
“Taking another person’s image or graphic and giving them a “shout out,” linkback, or any other type of attribution does not negate copyright infringement. Common sense may say that an artist wants exposure for their work, but we’re talking about the law here and common sense doesn’t always parallel. Copyright law gives the copyright holder the right to decide where their work is published and maybe they don’t want their work on your site, in your book, included in your newsletter or distributed to your social media network. It’s not for us to question why they wouldn’t want exposure.”
If you love a photo that doesn’t have credit listed, you can look for the source using the Chrome Extension Search by Image. When you run the Chrome extension, all the photos that you see on the web will have the tiny blue camera in the bottom right corner. You can click this camera to initiate the Google photo search.
A search for an image pulls up something like this in Google:
Here is a quick video that shows how you can search for an image by Google.
If you use photos without permission, you can receive a DMCA Takedown Notice and possibly be fined. Here is more information about what a DMCA Takedown Notice is and how to file a DMCA Takedown Notice if you need to. Again, from my super smart friend Sara Hawkins. Why am I quoting Sara so extensively? She is an attorney, I am not. These are legal issues and while the web seems like the wild, wild west, we can’t legally do whatever we want. You can get in trouble for photos on posts on your blog or social media posts. And I should also note, that Sara provides guidance in her writing and I’m sharing that with you but if you have specific legal questions please consult an attorney.
Please read in full: 12 Most Picture Perfect Ways to Ensure You’re Legally Using Photos Online by Sara Hawkins for a bigger take on the laws regarding online photo usage. There’s a great video on the Creative Commons website which talks about the copyright licenses. Check it out here.
How can you find photos to use on your blog or social media? Let’s talk about places to legally get free photos.
A great point from Kerry O’Shea Gorgone “If people do use Flickr/CreativeCommons, remember that it’s always possible the uploader was not actually the owner. Businesses should search by image on Google to confirm ownership before using those pictures commercially.” Here is a link to Google’s Search by Image.
Here’s a list of 11 places to get a free and legal photo for your blog. “The bottom line is if you can’t afford a stock photo, you certainly can’t afford the fine that comes from stealing one.”
1. Free Pixels
3. Creative Commons is a great resource. Make sure that you check the correct box at the top if you are going to use the photo for commercial purposes or modify, adapt or build upon (like adding text or banners in PicMonkey).
An important point to remember is to properly cite the photo on your blog or social media post once you find a photo that you have permission to use. At the bottom of my blog posts, I add “Photo courtesy of Blah Blah via Creative Commons” with a link in their name to the photo, this is the same text we use on 12 Most. For my social media posts, I list photo credit: NAME/source.
Infographics are another big question. Many infographics provide the embed code so that it can be shared on blogs and website with a link back to their original source. Sara Hawkins commented on my Google+ post saying “with infographics, just like all works that would be subject to copyright, we never really know what the copyright holder will agree with. Most infographic creators want them shared, but they also want to be given credit. Some watermark/include attribution on the graphic incase people forget to provide attribution. But the “best practice” should always be to obtain permission or have a very clear Fair Use claim. Because not providing, at minimum, some type of attribution can lead to the ethical claim of plagiarism, if someone is going to share w/o permission or being covered by an exception, the share should provide attribution. When sharing, often the best thing is to see if the creator of a work included some type of social share mechanism – embed code, notation of how to link/share, a share button for any of the social networks. If there is a social share mechanism it’s always best to use that because there is code embeded that maintains the tracking. It’s the cut/paste, screenshots, downloads that often create the problems.” (NOTE: this is not legal advice from Sara Hawkins, this is a public commentary on social media and used with permission.)
A fantastic point made by my friend blogger and social media persona Megan Sheakowski, “Sometimes people you see share photos on social media have behind the scenes agreements with groups and networks they are in about sharing photos with credits and links. I myself share many photo posts over here and do have permission from hundreds of bloggers in my niche to use a photo on social media and on my blog, but the general reader would never know that.
I think people get into gray areas when they start to use what they see others doing as a best practice. I am not a lawyer (although I used to have Supreme Court justice aspirations!) but think that a good rule of thumb would be to follow Sara Hawkins‘ advice regardless of what it looks like others are doing.”
You can, of course, contact the photographer or artist to request to use permission to use their photo or use your own photography. If you use your own photos, you might want to add a watermark to your image. You can do this in Photoshop, PicMonkey or PicMarkr. Pic Markr lets you upload up to five images and add one watermark to them all.
I realize that this seems complicated but it really boils down to two main points:
1. If you don’t have permission to use a photo or graphic, don’t use it.
2. Cite all sources. Period.
I hope that this helps you learn a bit more and make more informed decisions on your photo usage. Remember, just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn’t make it right. Be a good social media citizen and don’t tarnish your reputation.