Looking for free graphics to use on your blog? Think again. There’s no such thing as free images for blogs.
Picture this: A young writer has recently taken over writing the content for his family’s successful travel agency blog. It’s a dream job; he’s able to feature new destinations daily. He’s learning about the world around him, and using his mastery of language to write killer copy. Plus, this young writer knows well enough that you can’t just use free images for blogs.
He steers clear of sourcing photographs from Google’s image search and other search engines. Instead, he uses graphics sent to the travel agency by partner companies or even takes pictures travelers post to other travel blogs, but always credits the original photographer for their work. Then one day, he gets an email from a lawyer informing him that the travel agency is being sued for copyright infringement for thousands of dollars.
Don’t think this is old news or couldn’t happen to you because you’re a small-time blogger or have a brand new company blog. It is happening, and you need to prepare yourself.
Just a few weeks ago over on the website BlogHer, blogger Roni Loren posted about getting sued from a photographer for one picture she uploaded to her personal blog after searching Google for free images. For blogs, there’s unfortunately no such thing as free images, unless you’ve taken the pictures yourself. Besides having to deal with the lawsuit at hand, Loren also had to change 700 other images on her blog to protect herself from future litigation.
It’s even more important to ensure that you’re using the proper graphics on client blogs or websites. The Content Factory just faced an $8,000 lawsuit for a photograph they used on a client’s new blog. This “crappy photo of Nebraska” was live on the website for only three months, and viewed less than a hundred times. Yet, the client received a notification from a lawyer that they were being sued for $8,000 for using a copyrighted image.
Almost the same story happened to Webcopyplus, where they were forced to pay approximately $4,000 for what could have been a $10 stock photo. Both companies considered the pictures good enough to post with the blog but “nothing spectacular.” Yet, they were forced to pay the big bucks for an avoidable situatoin.
According to “Fair Use,” if a picture is copyrighted, your intentions for using it do not matter. It doesn’t make a difference if you’ve linked back to the source and credited the photographer or even if your site is non-commercial. Some people may think that it is fine to use a copyrighted photo as long as you don’t use the full-sized version or didn’t upload it to your blog’s server. None of that is true. In fact, even if you take a copyrighted picture down immediately after receiving a DCMA, you’re still liable to be sued for using it. Why? Because you never owned the rights to the photograph in the first place.
It might be an important time to point out that I’m not a lawyer, and neither is anyone else on the Lantern staff. Everything we’ve learned about free images for blogs (or should I say the lack there of) and copyright law hasn’t come from years of law school, but it has come from extensive research to be sure that we are following the rules and using images correctly. There’s so much murky information on the Internet, that you really need to put in the effort to make sure your blogging best practices are up to par. If you have the monetary resources, you may even want to consult a lawyer if you’re still unsure.
Think about it it this way, everyone you read here on the Lantern blog is a professional writer. We make our living out of the words we choose, and we certainly wouldn’t want anyone to pilfer our words and use them as if they were their own. We get copyright. The photographers whose work is being used unfairly aren’t getting compensation for their efforts.
Here are some of the ways we ensure that we are using proper blog images:
Hire an Illustrator or Photographer:
We try to often work with illustrators to create blog graphics. The real reason we do this is because we simply love supporting artists and small businesses. If possible, we’d like to make sure our money is going to a hardworking artist. Another benefit of working with an artist is that you can converse with them directly about the type of image you’d like to use and work together until the finished product is exactly what you both were hoping. Always create a contract that is clear about who has the copyright. If it’s not you, then make sure you have permission to use it however you intend to use it.
Take Photographs Ourselves:
Unless you have multiple personalities, it’s safe to assume that you’ll never be sued for using your own photographs or graphics on your personal or company blog. We like taking pictures, and we’ve had the opportunity to highlight many of them on this blog. One thing to consider if you’re the CEO: Be sure to get your employees’ permission in writing if you happen to be using their photos. This can be written into their employment contracts, that anything created while working for you, is owned by your company. This protects you and the clients that you work for. You don’t want a rogue employee changing their mind, and forcing you to have an uncomfortable conversation with an old client. Be sure you can continue using the photos on your blog in case these employees ever leave your company.
Purchase Stock Images:
If you are posting regularly – and you should be – you may not have enough of a budget to hire an illustrator or enough time to take your own perfect picture. This is where the beauty of stock photos comes in. There are many websites where you can purchase stock photos to use on your web pages. However, be sure to check and see if there are terms or conditions that come with purchasing the stock photos. Some sites still require you to link back to the website the graphic was purchased from or to credit the photographer – even if you’ve purchased the photograph for commercial use.
For the record, we use PhotoDune, which does not ask for or require credit.
What are your thoughts on free images for blogs? We’d love to know where you get your graphics from, and if you have any tips to share about copyright law. Let’s take this conversation to the comments section!