Get the Scoop on Fair Image Usage

Since I started blogging, one of the most confusing areas for me has been in the area of image usage. I started out snatching up images, willy-nilly, like  free samples at Costco. Then Roni Loren bravely shared her story, and frankly, it scared the poo out of me. Since then, I’ve made a point to educate myself in this area. I know this can be a sticky area for everyone so I’m happy to have Doug Langille here today from Writer’s Carnival to shed a little extra light on the issue…

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When it comes to writing stuff on the internet, awesome art and photography are truly important. A well-chosen picture can greatly enhance the stickiness and ‘shareaucity’ of a post. Text-based Facebook posts often go ignored. You can’t even post to Pinterest without a cool image.

No problem, you say. Pics on the Interweb are free, so I’ll just go download some LOL cats and Darth Vader memes.

Yikes.

This is a common misconception, but ignorance won’t alleviate you from being publicly chastised or even sued for using a copyrighted picture without taking the proper steps. If you’re interested in sprucing up your Internet writing pieces without experiencing legal backlash, here are some tips and guidelines.

One easy solution to this problem is to use something you’ve created yourself. Most of us suck pretty bad at drawing, but taking a photo with your phone and cropping it is surprisingly effective. It really should be your first option. If you’re unsure about the logistics of taking your own pictures, check out these posts on The Basics of Photography: The Complete Guide and Taking Better Pictures with your Smartphone Camera.

You could also pay a fee for access to a stock photography site. That’s what professional marketers and for-profit enterprises do. You’re rich, right, Mister Moneybags?

Either way, if you’d rather use someone else’s images, then you’ll need to know a few things about how copyright works on the Internet.

First off, copyright is automatic in most countries; you don’t even have to put on a copyright stamp. As a result, if you were to go to Google Images and look for art, you’ll have absolutely no trouble finding pictures (the majority of which are copyrighted) that you might be tempted to use. Many people do. However, this is wrong.

One way to avoid using someone else’s work inappropriately is to hunt down the artist and ask permission to use the work. Some artists want compensation, others just want attribution. It’s confusingly inconsistent.

Creative Commons has made some very good strides at plain-language licensing. They offer 6 different licenses for artists to use:

  • CC BY: Attribution (linking to the artist and/or work, do what you like with it)
  • CC BY-SA: Attribution, ShareAlike (you must license your derived work the same)
  • CC BY-NC: Attribution, Non-Commercial (modify as needed, can’t be used for commercial purposes)
  • CC BY-ND: Attribution, No-Derivatives (can’t alter the work, must be kept whole)
  • CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike
  • CC BY-NC-ND: Attribution, Non-Commercial, No-Derivatives

Here’s the sticky-wicket: the definition of ‘Non-Commercial’ is somewhat loosely defined and left to the artist’s discretion. Generally speaking, if you’re making money off your work directly or indirectly, then it’s commercial.

How it plays out is that:

  • For a blog, you can often get away with using images tagged CC BY-NC (biggest selection).
  • If you are selling something, then you should aim for CC-BY.
  • If you have ads on your site, this puts you in a gray area. You may opt for CC-BY to be 100% clean.
  • If you are sourcing images for a printed book, then the NC licensed works are off-limits.

Clear as mud? Cool.

Now, not every image on the Internet has a CC license. In fact, most don’t. Individual artists may have different license models. The majority of images have nothing defined, but remember that copyright is assumed and using work without permission puts you at risk. The number of unattributed images shared on Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest is alarming.

A common etiquette employed on the web is that, if the license is not defined, you can use the guidelines of CC BY-NC-ND: use it unmodified for non-commercial purposes and provide a link to the artist’s site. Another nicety is to comment on the their site that you used their work and provide the link to where you did. Most times, the artist is happy for the exposure. If not, you don’t use it. Simple as that.

Note also that ignorance is no excuse. It’s rarely the case that ‘Artist Unknown’ is acceptable. Google provides a facility where you can upload an image and search Google for the source. Go to http://images.google.com and click the little gray camera that says ‘search by image’.  It’s worth that extra little step.

Here’s some other sites where you can find properly licensed art and photography:

  • Creative Commons has a handy tool.
  • Finding images on Flickr is easy (just click here or here).
  • Sadly, searching DeviantArt for CC-BY is hard. Gotta use Google.
  • You can search all of Google.

Finding images isn’t the problem; there are plenty of them out there. It’s all a matter of finding the ones that are available to the public and including the appropriate attribution. Hopefully you’ve got some new tips now to help with the confusion.

doug-bio-picBio: Doug Langille is a team member at Writer’s Carnival, an on-line community where writers can post original stories/poetry and review each other’s work. It’s a place for them to connect and share in their love of all types of creative writing from poetry to novels, be it through posting for feedback, forums, group discussions or status updates.

 

*Photo courtesy of opensource.com @ Creative Commons

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
This entry was posted in Publishing and Self Publishing, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
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[…] This post also appears at WC Writing Tips, Writers Helping Writers & East Coast […]

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[…] Creative Commons licensed pictures (Creative Commons pictures are free to use with some restrictions. You usually have to credit the owner and link back to their […]

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[…] Get the Scoop on Fair Image Usage, Writers Helping Writers […]

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[…] This post also appears at WC Writing Tips, Writers Helping Writers & East Coast […]

Annalie Buscarino
Annalie Buscarino
6 years ago

Great job Doug! Love the humor you incorporate into everything you write. WC proud!

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[…] NOTE: This post also appears at WC Writing Tips & Writers Helping Writers. […]

Aleta Brooks
Aleta Brooks
6 years ago

Thank you for this post. Trying to figure out what images are available to use and under what circumstances has been a chore. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post. Clear, concise, and VERY helpful. 🙂
Brook

Mart Ramirez
6 years ago

Excellent post. Thank you so much!

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[…] couple of weeks ago, WHW hosted Doug Langille for a guest post about fair image usage on our blogs. Becca asked me to stop by and share a follow-up post on how to make the blah pictures […]

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[…] Get the Scoop on Fair Image Usage […]

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Monday Must-Reads [05/12/14]
6 years ago

[…] Get the Scoop on Fair Image Usage | WRITERS HELPING WRITERS […]

Irene
6 years ago

This is very useful and informative. i will definitely bookmark it for future reference. Thanks for sharing.

I have shared photos from Pinterest on Facebook many times in the past. Now I am not sure if this does not have copyright implication. Also used pictures from Google image search on my blog a couple of times with credit to the source. What is the best way to deal with this? Take down the pictures?

I have since played safe by purchasing pictures from the commercial sites like Dreamstime or using pictures I took myself.

Traci Kenworth
6 years ago

It’s always great to brush up on this subject.

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[…] Get the Scoop on Fair Image Usage A good post from Writers Helping Writers covering the ins and outs of using images you find on the web. This is a good one for the self-publishing/indie crowd. […]

Shah Wharton'
6 years ago

Thanks for the great tips Doug. X

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Shah Wharton'

You are most welcome, Shah. 🙂

Becca Barray
6 years ago

Image use can be a tricky subject for bloggers and this is a great explanation of the Creative Commons license types. I just want to comment on the assumption of CC BY-NC-ND for images not clearly marked.

“A common etiquette employed on the web is that, if the license is not defined, you can use the guidelines of CC BY-NC-ND: use it unmodified for non-commercial purposes and provide a link to the artist’s site.”

This may be ‘a common etiquette employed on the web’ but it is still not strictly legal. If the license is not defined, then you should assume that all rights are reserved and contact the owner of the image for permission before using it in any way. Simply adding a link and attribution does not protect you from being sued if the owner objects to your use.
That being said, most photographers/artists would probably be satisfied with attribution and a link, but as evidenced with Roni Loren’s extreme situation, there are those out there who would not, so be careful. If you really want to protect yourself from any kind of lawsuit, make 100% sure that the image is listed with a CC license for your intended use, or contact the owner.

Thanks for spreading the word about internet image use, Doug.

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Becca Barray

Totally agree, Becca. Common etiquette is not the same as permission. Thanks for pulling that out and highlighting. 🙂

Jovanna
Jovanna
6 years ago

This is why I only use pictures I created myself or ones I know are not copyrighted in anyway (always with thorough research). I have been creating my own stock photos and images. Since I don’t have a picture creating, photo-editing program, I use Microsoft Powerpoint. Does what I want it to and if something needs specific editing, Paint isn’t so bad as it used to be these days – as long as no one looks too closely.

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Jovanna

You can’t go wrong with using your own art, Jovanna. I’m doing that more and more and replacing my own questionable images with it. Using your own art also steers clear of the non-commercial conundrum with CC works.

Carol Baldwin
6 years ago

Thanks for the information. I’ll save it to refer to in the future.

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Carol Baldwin

Glad it was useful, Carol. 🙂

Michael Embry
6 years ago

A very informative post. I’ve run across a few folks who seem to believe that putting “Courtesy of …..” will suffice. I tell them that may be OK, but only if they get permission from the artist/photograph/source.

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Embry

Pinterest scares the bejeebus out of me, Michael. I mean… wow. Just wow.

:Donna Marie
6 years ago
Reply to  Doug Langille

Doug, I know I mentioned it when I commented, but am specifically asking hoping you can give me an answer 🙂

When I post book covers, is it enough to simply link to the page on which the book is for sale? I can’t imagine anyone objecting to that, but…?

Thanks!

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  :Donna Marie

Oh! You mean for book reviews and such. There are two takes, from what I understand.

1. Thumbnails under a certain size (can’t remember) is fine.
2. ‘Fair Use’ for journalistic purposes is allowed although I’ve read some interesting flack over that too.

Wikipedia has a good amount of detail on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

:Donna Marie
6 years ago
Reply to  Doug Langille

Thank you so much, Doug! 😀

Rosi Hollinbeck
6 years ago

Really helpful post. Thanks for all this useful information.

Doug Langille
6 years ago

That’s awesome, Rosi. 🙂

J.R.Barker
6 years ago

I used to do this, then I realised the error of my ways and changed them. However I have become a bit lazy in using images :/

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  J.R.Barker

You’re not alone, JR. It’s way to easy to take the easy road. I’m still offside in spots. Working on cleaning things up.

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[…] found this article very […]

Robyn Campbell (@authorswrite)

What a great post. I see folks (writers) using images without permission all the time. From now on, I’ll refer them to this post. It’s so easy to take a pic from my phone. And it belongs to me! Thank you for your informative and vital words. 🙂

Doug Langille
6 years ago

Glad this post helped, Robyn. 🙂

S.E. Hood
S.E. Hood
6 years ago

A very timely post for me, but I was wondering: does this apply to downloading images from free stock photo sites? It makes sense to get permission and link back to the original site if you find the image on Google or social media, but I guess I just figured they were free for the taking as long as they came from a site like freerangestock.com. At any rate, thanks for such an informative post. I’ve only recently started using images in my blog, and I’m glad I read this before I encountered any problems!

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  S.E. Hood

Take the time to read the licensing statement on that site. Free doesn’t always mean free. I always attribute to be safe.

S.E. Hood
S.E. Hood
6 years ago
Reply to  Doug Langille

Will do. Thanks!

Julie Musil
6 years ago

I read that same post by Roni Loren and it changed my ways. This is a great breakdown of what we can and can’t use. Someone else turned me on to morgue file.

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Julie Musil

Yeah, Roni’s story is sobering. O.O. Glad the links here help, Julie.

Deb
Deb
6 years ago

Thanks for this! I don’t use a lot of images…hmmm….don’t use any other than book covers. One of the reasons is I am still trying to get a handle on CC and how to know how to even use that. So, I appreciate the list of the different CC attributions!

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Deb

Glad you found the post useful, Debra. Write on! 🙂

Cindy Huff
6 years ago

This was helpful yet, still confusing. I tend toward using my own photos (really my husbands) as my first go to. There are a few websites that do offer free images. Getty is one of those. Even so I believe there are some restrictions. What is your take on using an image from some else’s blog or website?

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Cindy Huff

I’d still lean towards finding the original artist and seek permission. You know what they say about making assumptions…. 😉

:Donna Marie
6 years ago
Reply to  Cindy Huff

Cindy, I don’t see “free” images on the Getty site : /

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  Becca Puglisi

Thanks, Becca. Glad you liked this post and I’m trilled that you featured it on this blog. 🙂 It’s a message worth repeating.

DT Krippene
DT Krippene
6 years ago

Good advice, and in need of repeating every so often for those who didn’t get the message. Question came up recently, is when someone attributes a pic from Pinterest (which usually, but not always, leads to originator’s site). What’s your sage advice on the use of Pinterest in blogs, etc?

Doug Langille
6 years ago
Reply to  DT Krippene

Ha ha, DT. “Sage” advice?! There’s a sage here. 🙂 Pinterest isn’t a ‘source’. Neither is saying ‘Found on twitter’. I always search the picture using Google Images to find the original artist.

C. Lee McKenzie
C. Lee McKenzie
6 years ago

This has cleared up so much for me. I always site my source or give direct credit for images I use, but I realize I may not be totally in the right.

Thanks for the detailed explanation.

Doug Langille
6 years ago

Glad this was helpful, Lee. It’s a wild world out there. Stay safe. 🙂