While some people may not think so (or at least act like it), copyright laws still apply when writing or posting on the web. One of the biggest ways that copyright laws are often ignored is in the use of pictures on blogs. It’s so easy to download images and upload them again that copyright laws sometimes go right out the window. If you have this attitution, however, you can run into some big trouble. This post will hopefully clear up (1) Why bloggers should stay legal with picture use and (2) How to stay legal without having to hire a full time photographer. First, the reasons why you should respect copyright of photos.
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Why Bloggers Should Respect Copyright On Pictures
First of all, its the right thing to do! In this day and age, the ability to do something translates for many people into “I will do it.” Stealing a photo is still stealing. Yes its easy. Yes you can get away with it. Most of the time. That leads me to my second reason…
You can get caught! And sued! Big time! This is especially true if you start using photos from the big photo and newswire agencies such as AP, Reuters, or Getty Images. They have lots of money and they make lots of money syndicating out their content and images to websites and news organizations. The photos they sell can be expensive. If they catch a small blogger using them, what chance do you think you will stand against a team of lawyers? If you have used many different pictures from these services, you can get in major trouble.
Basically, to stay safe and stay ethical, you should refrain from indiscriminate “use” of other’s copyrighted images. To find out more about copyright online go here: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/07/07/copyright-explained-i-may-copy-it-right/
The rest of this article will explain ways you can use photos from throughout the web on your blog posts, without spending lots of money or hiring a photographer.
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How To Find Images You Can Use On The Web
Note: Copyright law can be confusing. Before you use any of these tips, know that I am not a lawyer and am not offering legal advice. Anything you do is your own responsibility. OK, disclaimer over.
Here are some of the best sources for images that can be used. Some of these images require attribution to the author for use. Some can be freely used as they are in the Public Domain. I recommend reading up at each source what their licensing agreement is.
For bloggers who are writing on politics, one of the best sources of public domain photographs is the good old U.S. Government. The images that the U.S Government produces are automatically in the public domain and free of copyright. There are two ways to get these photos.
First, go to Google Images. Type in “site.gov” (without parentheses) and then the term that you want to search. For example, if you are looking for pictures of Obama that can be used without any copyright restrictions, type in “site.gov Obama” into the search bar. Click on the link to see this search in action. Typing in site:.gov before the term is a search operator that only gives results for sites with a “.gov” domain. This is a great way to find political photos.
Alternatively, you can also go to media collections of the various agencies. Here are few that have good photo collections.
You can find an entire list of government photo collections at USA.gov
Creative Commons and “Copyright Friendly” Images
Many photos are now under the Creative Commons license. Generally, photos under a Creative Commons license can be used under certain restrictions. Some request that the use is non-commercial. Most request that attribution is made to the original author.
Along with photos in the Creative Commons, many photos are licensed to various websites which collect and distribute free stock photos. Some restrictions apply, which means you’ll have to read up on each site how they handle attribution, use, etc.
Here is a list of websites that will help you find usable photos. While you won’t find as many political photos as you will at government websites, you can find many stock photos for use in blogging.
http://www.everystockphoto.com/ Search Engine to find creative commons photos.
http://www.morguefile.com/ Reusable photos without attribution. You can even use photos commercially.
http://freerangestock.com/ Requires membership
http://4freephotos.com/ Can be used without attribution unless used on an object (Coffee Mug, T-Shirt, etc. Bloggers will be ok.)
“Fair Use” is where things get really tricky. A good definition of fair use comes from Wikipedia:
Fair use is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. In United States copyright law, fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author’s work under a four-factor balancing test.
Basically, what this means is that you can, in some certain circumstances, use a photo that is under copyright without infringment. The “certain circumstances” part of that statement is what gets many bloggers in trouble, as “Fair Use” is often abused.
Fair Use is designed to balance the public interest with the rights of copyright holders. It is most often used in blogging to either comment on books or news articles by including short quotes and commenting on it. In the case of photos, if the photo in question is completely integral to your commentary, criticism, news reporting (i.e. it is the focus of your article) then you might be able to claim Fair Use.
Fair Use, however, is a very subjective part of copyright law and I recommend you try to stay away from using any photos that are under copyright. The best thing to do is to first ask the photographer if you can have permission to feature his image. Here is a great article discussing Fair Use as it pertains to images online.
Hopefully, this post has helped you find good pictures you can use without getting thrown in jail. (Ok, if not jail, at least fined.) At the least, I hope it has opened your eyes to some of the legal problems that bloggers have to confront. To read more about copyright, creative commons licenses, fair use, and other blogging legal issues, use these great resources below. Please comment below with your thoughts and please ask any questions.