When you post new content to your website or social media page, search engines make it easy to find a picture to match the message. But by using those photos, graphics, or funny cat cartoons, you could be (uh oh!) breaking the law.* Images are automatically copyrighted in the name of the owner, and if you didn’t snap the picture, it doesn’t belong to you.
But who cares? I mean, the internet is full of “fair use” information, and so whatever you find, you can use… right? Wrong. To the owner of that image, it does matter. Your college roommate’s Rolling Stones t-shirt looked way better on you… but that didn’t make it yours.
Here are some simple guidelines to follow before you start Ctl+C-ing random images from the internet:
1. If you didn’t make the image yourself, it’s not yours to use. There are plenty of great apps and photo editing websites to help you create the images you need. For making cool graphics on your iPhone and iPad, try Paper (our own Lisa D. is addicted). If you’re looking for a simple web-based way to edit pictures, try Photoshop Express. The easiest way to stay out of trouble is to get your creative juices flowing and make something yourself.
2. Search for images that are “copyright free” or in the public domain. That means that they are no longer copyrighted and free for you to use. When searching free online image banks, just be sure you read the fine print to be certain it’s ok to use them in the way you intend (e.g. an image might be ok to use on a blog post but not on a tshirt or printed brochure).
Some sites to try:
Freerange – Membership required, but it’s free
PD Photo – PD stands for Public Domain
Stockvault.net – Pro: each image has it’s own usage guidelines; Con: Shutterstock images surround the free Stockvault ones (stupid advertising), so be careful where you click
3. Flickr makes it easy to find images as long as you follow their licensing rules. For images that fall under a Creative Commons license, make sure you credit the source properly. Lucky for us the rules are outlined right there on the page, so you’ll know exactly how to credit the source of your chosen image.
4. If you find an image that you simply must have, contact the owner and ask for permission. Offer to link and attribute the work to him/her on your blog or website, and they might be more inclined to let you use it (maybe not for free, but at least you won’t receive a nastygram from their lawyer).
I’m saving the best for last…
5. Use basic common sense. If you’re not sure where the image came from or how to use it without getting into trouble, just pick something else.
Do you use images from the internet? Where do you find them?
*I am not a lawyer, and therefore my explanation of copyright infringement, fair use, and other fancy-schmancy legal terms should be taken with a grain of salt. These guidelines are a product of my own personal internet research, and we all know how reliable the internet can be. Some of the websites I used for this post include: