6 Dangerous Myths About Online Image Use

6 Dangerous Myths About Online Image Use

stack of photos ©Marie LeslieI am frequently asked about using images online.  Most of these questions are about images people find on the web and want to put on their blog, website or Facebook page—or about using them in various products such as eBooks and advertisements.

These are six of the most frequently misunderstood statements regarding online (and offline) image use.  Breaking these rules can not only lead to some online embarrassment but legal trouble as well. Just to make things clear and simple, when I refer to “images”  I am talking about both graphics and photographs.

 

1. I found it on Google so it’s ok for me to use it.

Finding an image on Google—or any other search engine—does not make it “fair game.”  Since 1989, any image (especially photographs) is considered to be copyrighted from the moment of creation.  Whether or not an image is registered with the US Copyright Office has no bearing on whether it is copyrighted.  Copyrighted means that the creator of the image owns ALL the rights to it and you MAY NOT use it without their permission.  Period.  If you don’t have permission, you don’t have the right to use it.  “I didn’t know who made it” is not a legal defense and will not protect you against a claim of infringement.

Images created before 1925 or by the US Government (with a few exceptions) are considered to be in the public domain and can be used without copyright restrictions.

 

2. I don’t sell anything on my blog so it’s ok for me to use images I find online.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a business or a hobby blogger, if you use someone else’s image for your benefit, you are violating their copyright.  No, you may not claim “fair use” as a way to use other people’s images on your blog or Facebook page. “Fair use” is a narrow doctrine and generally applies online only to using excerpts or samples of a work in reviewing the piece.  It is not intended to allow to use someone else’s images to illustrate your blog.

 

3. It doesn’t have a copyright or a watermark on it, so it’s ok for me to use.

See #1.  An image is considered to be copyrighted the moment it’s created.  An artist or photographer (who are artists, by the way, but that’s another rant) does not have to include a notice of copyright on either prints or digital works for them to be copyrighted.

 

4. It’s royalty-free so I can use it however I want.

Royalty-free doesn’t mean unlimited use.  It means if you have the right to use it, you don’t have to pay every time you use it.  Make sure you read the terms of use and/or the license information for every image you purchase or download.  These documents will tell you what you can and cannot use the image for.

 

5. I paid for this image so it’s mine and I can do whatever I want with it.

You can’t.  It’s that simple.  Once again, you need to know what the terms of use and how the image is licensed.  This also applies to those family portraits you had taken by your local photography studio.  Yes, it’s you in the picture.  No, it’s not yours to reproduce and distribute however you want UNLESS the photographer gave you specific permission.  Of course, the photographer can’t use them either unless you have given him/her permission as that would violate your right to privacy (we’ll get into privacy v. copyright) in another post.  If you are having pictures made (whether portraits or other things) for the purpose of using them on your website, blog, Christmas card or business card, make sure you can use them for this BEFORE you have the pictures made. There are plenty of photographers who will license the images for you (I’m one).

 

6. I’m actually helping this artist by giving them credit.  They should thank me for helping advertise their business.

As a photographer, this is probably the most annoying and arrogant statement I hear and nearly every established artist I know will agree on this one.  We know you don’t intend it that way, but after the 200th time we hear about how us giving away our work to you will make us so much money and build our businesses (and it RARELY happens), well, we just get really tired of it.  It’s up to me how and where I advertise my business.  99% of the time it’s an excuse to try and get me to work for you for free.  A credit line doesn’t put food on my table any more than it puts food on yours.  If you really want to use an image without laying out any cash for it, offer a barter.  Give the artist a reason to want to allow you use of their images and don’t insult either their business sense or their talent.  Think about how you would feel if someone took your work and republished it or used it without your consent (and sometimes without credit or attribution) and then expected you to thank them for it.

 

Having trouble understanding some of these terms?  Would you like to know more about how to legally use images for your business?  Complete the box in the right-hand sidebar to get a copy of my FREE report on using images to build your business.

 

How about you?  Have you fallen for any of these myths or have any other questions about image use you’d like to have answered?  Leave me your questions and thoughts in the comment section below.

And if you found this helpful, please use the buttons below to tweet or share it with your network.

____________________________________________________

 marie leslieMarie Leslie is the chief Creative Genius at  Marie Leslie Media.  With 30 years experience as a professional writer, editor and photographer she has had work published in many regional and national magazines. Marie currently writes and teaches about business, photography & life, helping people to understand and make use of the ever-changing internet.  She offers WordPress blog design, set-up and optimization as well as photography, writing & social media services.

43 thoughts on “6 Dangerous Myths About Online Image Use

  • Pingback:Great points made in this article for both photographers and consumers. Read -... | Newborn Photographer | Newborn Photographer | Baby Photography

  • January 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm
    Permalink

    Great post.

    One quibble: I believe the cut off year is 1923, not 1925.

    And, if you want to get technical, some post 1922 images can be used if the author (photographer) died mor than 70 years ago. Or if You do the research and know that the copyright wasn’t registered on photos published before 1964.

    Oh, and all this only applies to photos published in the U S. elsewhere you have to wait till the photographer has been dead for 70 years.

    Complicated enough for you?

    Reply
    • January 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm
      Permalink

      It is crazy complicated, isn’t it? I know that the US copyright office has made changed over the past 25-30 years that will eventually simplify the system, but we’ll have to wait until all the old copyrights expire for a more uniform system. Is it any wonder people just give up, use what they want, cross their fingers and hope they don’t get caught? Not an excuse, but it sure means more work for us in educating people.

      Reply
  • December 12, 2011 at 9:31 am
    Permalink

    Thanks for the info. Marie. I wasn’t aware of many of the issues. What about FB sharing of photos or the cute little pictures or motivational images? And where do you find out what the licensing is for a specific image? I’m kinda new to this stuff and ignorant if you will.

    Reply
    • December 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm
      Permalink

      MIchael, if you’re hitting the share button with those motivational sayings and other Facebook postings, I don’t believe there is any issue with that. If you are taking copyrighted images off other websites and posting them to your Facebook page or profile, you could get into trouble there.

      As for licensing for specific images, when you get it from a stock image site, the site will tell you how an image is licensed. If it isn’t clear, ask them to clarify their licensing. I think there is too much “legalese” in licensing agreements and always try to write mine in plain English terms so everyone can understand them. If you are using images you get from Google search, you need to find the original source (which is usually why it’s not worth it). From websites like Flickr and Photobucket, images are usually licensed under Creative Commons and you just need to be sure you are following the posters’ licensing request, which could be a link back or a credit line. It can vary from image to image there.

      Reply
  • December 11, 2011 at 4:37 am
    Permalink

    Excellent, excellent post, Marie. I hope you’ll license it to me for use in my coaching! Much needed reading for anyone with a blog, or any web presence. I have to admit that when I first started my blog, I thought that if I found it on Google I must be able to use it ~ pure ignorance. Thanks so much for laying it out so clearly here.

    Reply
    • December 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm
      Permalink

      I’ll be happy to to help you out with that for your coaching, Jennifer. Just drop me an email and we’ll get it all worked out.

      Reply
  • December 10, 2011 at 9:56 pm
    Permalink

    I’m a newbie to this– this is very helpful, many thanks! I have zemanta installed on my blogs— is anything zemanta shows me fair game, I’ve been wondering… thanks!

    Reply
    • December 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm
      Permalink

      I’m not familiar with Zemanta, but if you’ll send me a link, I’ll be happy to take a look and check it out.

      Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 9:31 pm
    Permalink

    Great post! Thanks for sharing this information.

    Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks for clarifying – artists have a right to their work! Photographers are artists who should be paid. I have been in advertising for 2 years and can still recall the days of paying thousands of dollars to get a full day photo shoot – todays Internet prices are so reasonable, no one should mind paying for usage of great photos!

    Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 11:24 am
    Permalink

    Great information…had no idea how much I didn’t know!! Thanks for sharing; kind of makes me want to just get a better camera and do all my own pics!

    Reply
    • December 8, 2011 at 5:32 pm
      Permalink

      That’s not a bad way to go, Sue. Just remember it isn’t the camera that makes the pictures good anymore than it’s the cookware that makes dinner delicious. I always recommend a photography class to go along with a new camera.

      Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 11:22 am
    Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this… I can’t believe how much I “didn’t” know about the subject…makes me wish my husband would go into the photography business and he could do all my work!!

    Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 11:17 am
    Permalink

    A big part of the problem is how pervasive the image sharing is. It’s easy to think “Everyone else is doing it… why can’t I?” Of course, that seems reasonable until you are faced with an angry copyright owner, or worse, a lawsuit.

    My big question is celebrities. Walking the red carpet, or otherwise posing in public, near-identical poses can flood the internet. Also, many celebrities include galleries of photos on their own websites.

    Of course, taking these images and printing them on Tee-shirts for sale would be an infringement. But what about posting a celebrity picture on a writer’s blog, saying “I love this actor! I think that my main character looks like them in this picture.” ???

    Reply
    • December 8, 2011 at 5:33 pm
      Permalink

      If you have rights to the picture for editorial use, that would be perfectly legal. There are many stock agencies that specialize in celebrity photos for editorial use.

      Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 10:15 am
    Permalink

    As a photographer I bet this is a huge pet peeve for you, and I can certainly understand that. I’m a graphic artist and have had some of my work stolen. It’s frustrating.

    Thank you for clarifying what violates a copyright, its my guess most people don’t realize they are stealing someone else’s hard work.

    Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 7:58 am
    Permalink

    Such important information! Thanks for sharing what you know on the topic! Best to not get in trouble that can cost big money!

    Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 3:36 am
    Permalink

    So important Marie! Thanks for the information. You’re the girl I turn to when I need advice, you’re amazing! :)))

    Reply
    • December 8, 2011 at 8:26 am
      Permalink

      Thanks for the kind words, Tara. I am happy to help and share what I know.

      Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 3:12 am
    Permalink

    Great information, Marie. I too, have been guilty of this. How about graphics / pictures from photo software? Do the same rules apply?
    The LEARNED Preneur @ NormaDoiron.Net

    Reply
    • December 8, 2011 at 8:38 am
      Permalink

      Norma, it has been my experience that with purchased software that contain images for your use, you are allowed to use them in your projects and post them on your business website or blog. You generally may not sell or redistribute those items. Some scrapbooking programs and image collections do come with a restriction for personal use only. The only time I have posted images made from that software would be in reviewing the product, which would fall under “fair use.”

      If you are in doubt, you should be able to find it in the software license agreement. If you have a specific question, send me an email. If it’s software I use, I can tell you how I interpreted the license agreement. Since I’m not an attorney, I can’t dispense any legal advice but I can tell you what I do.

      Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 11:29 pm
    Permalink

    Very helpful and relevant information as always Marie. Thanks for looking out for all of us and increasing that awareness!

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 6:36 pm
    Permalink

    Wow!! Great article with lots of very important information. So if we get royalty free photos they are safe to use on our sites? Just want to make sure. Thanks again…can’t wait for you to start offering photos for sale…hurry up will ya? 🙂

    Reply
    • December 7, 2011 at 7:44 pm
      Permalink

      Generally, most royalty-free photos are safe. Any time you are getting photos from a stock site or sharing site, it will have a license that tells you how you can use the photos. I’ve yet to find a stock site that doesn’t allow their use on blogs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there (pretty unusual, though).

      And I can’t wait, either. Just waiting for my web designer to finish up some site mods to the software so I can finish up and get it running. Soon, soon, but not soon enough for my impatient self!

      Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm
    Permalink

    Thank you, so much Marie for the valuable information. I use images a lot so I will be using this as a reference for sure. I appreciate you.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm
    Permalink

    I went through this when I first started my blog. Make sure you do your research about photos ahead of time, otherwise you can end up in a sticky situation!

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks so much Marie for posting this important information. I remember when I made my first 3 videos years ago. I looked on Google, found what I wanted and took them. My friend, the Harvard Law Grad LOL asked where I got the images. I told him. He strongly suggested I remove them and only use ones I had the rights to use. I listened to him – thank goodness. I shared his suggestion with a fellow marketer who didn’t listen. He got sued! Great share – thanks !

    Reply
    • December 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm
      Permalink

      Yes, Julie, using images without permission can definitely have expensive consequences. You were smart to listen!

      Reply
  • Pingback:6 Dangerous Myths About Online Image Use | Small Biz Marketing | Scoop.it

  • December 7, 2011 at 12:26 pm
    Permalink

    Thank you Marie. There are so many rules about images and ignorance will not help people. You are doing a great job by shedding light on this subject! I agree with you ~ a good professional photographer is an artist!

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm
    Permalink

    This was such valuable information, Marie. I had so many questions about image use, particularly around selling products with online images. Great to know there’s a resource for this information. Thank you!

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 11:57 am
    Permalink

    For this reason, I’ve shied away from using graphics. I occasionally use personal digital photos. A picture paints a thousands words but at what expense?

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 11:27 am
    Permalink

    Great tips! I have a friend who was once invoiced hundreds of dollars unless she removed or purchased all the images on her site. Yikes. I’m forwarding this to my VA to make sure we are good to go. I just assume she has done due diligence.

    Reply
    • December 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm
      Permalink

      Ouch! That would have been a painful bill. I once used a graphic that was noted as public domain when it wasn’t. Thankfully, the owner of the image only wanted me to link to the original image on their site & give them a credit, which I was more than happy to do.

      Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 10:59 am
    Permalink

    Great post Marie. Thank you for sharing this valuable information. Really, most of us are guilty in doing this.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 10:47 am
    Permalink

    You have answered a lot of important questions about image use! Great info, will be bookmarking this page! Thanks!

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 10:37 am
    Permalink

    Great tips, I was not even aware of these issues.
    Thanks,
    AJ

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 10:24 am
    Permalink

    WOW! Great information here. I guess I better start using my iStock photo account more often….that is until I can purchase some pictures from you! Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 8:35 am
    Permalink

    Marie, As an artist myself I am very sensitive to this issue. I see it everywhere and I find it really annoying. For that reason I use only my own photos…
    Would I love to use someone else’s definitely, but I am not interested in taking from them for my own gain. I see so many blogs with absolutely beautiful images and always wonder…who is the photographer. Does she/he approve of this image being used?Thanks for publishing this post!

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 7:47 am
    Permalink

    Very important information. Thanks. I’ll be using it frequently as a reference.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2011 at 7:02 am
    Permalink

    Outstanding post.

    I think an overwhelming majority of us are guilty of these image abuses at some time or another, not necessarily realizing the consequences of such effects.

    Most people mean no harm, and many use an “attribution” credit if they’re pressed for time in making a post – like a gossip blog would.

    Reply
    • December 7, 2011 at 7:42 am
      Permalink

      You are quite right, Lauryn. Most image mistakes online are not made maliciously, but rather because of ignorance. As far as using an image and using “attribution” credit, if it really is a matter of urgency, go ahead and publish while you are still making every attempt to gain permission–and be prepared to remove the image if the photographer requests it, though most photographers WILL work with you if they are given the courtesy of a request. It is the assumption that photographers are happy any time any image gets published that gets people into trouble. Some photographs are already licensed or contracted for specific purposes and cannot be freely republished, even by the photographer.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.