Dealing With Online Images

Images are important, right? Images draw in viewers, tell stories, and facilitate the sharing of experiences. This is a fundamental principle of online publishing. If you are familiar with this basic principal, chances are you’re also familiar with the challenge of finding the perfect image. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones and actually find that perfect image. Great! But there may be additional considerations before you slap that image on your blog or website.

Simply put, if you are not the artwork’s author (you didn’t take the photo or create the image), you do not own that artwork. At this point, you’re probably asking, “why do I see so many people using other people’s images?” The following practical approaches are options for using images that you do not own:

Ask Permission

Assuming you are not the author of the image you would like to use, someone else is and they have rights in that image. As such, the first thing you should do is ask permission from the photographer to use the image. Typically, the author/photographer can easily be reached through their website. The photographer may require payment of a licensing fee to use the image.

Public Domain

The easiest and cheapest option for use of others’ images is the “public domain.” Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. When using public domain images, you do not have to deal directly with the photographer for permission, or exchange money to license an image. However, be sure to do your research to ensure that your image does, in fact, live in the public domain. Don’t just assume your image is a public domain image just because it’s old!

Creative Commons

This is a form of copyright protection where the owner gives the public permission to use the image rather than restrict its use. This is another option that avoids dealing with the photographer and avoids license fees. Creative Commons images can be pulled from here or here.

Stock Images

Finally, stock images, obtained from a site like this, can be used for free or can be licensed (for a fee) from sites like this. These images are licensed to you after the image owner already granted the stock photo website permission, making the process easy for you (you only deal with the website).

Always Attribute

What exactly is attribution and how is it done properly? Attribution is simply giving credit to the owner of the image. The best way to do this is to place a short note stating something along these lines: “Photo Source: The Sartorialist” right under the image, preferably with a hyperlink to the source. The link should live right under the image, not hidden at the bottom of the page or obscured by small print and should give credit directly to the owner.

Remember that in all of the above examples, you still do not own the image; instead, you are essentially renting or borrowing the image. The converse of this is true, too. If you use images from a Google image search, or somewhere else without permission, you are essentially stealing someone else’s intellectual property. Someone else owns the image; therefore, using the image without the owner’s permission violates intellectual property laws and could potentially get you into hot water.

Choosing the right image can be tricky and knowing whether or not you can legally use the image can be even trickier. Bottom line, if you’re unsure, ask for permission, and always attribute. Not doing so can hurt your own artistic integrity and professional reputation, and when building an online following, a bad reputation is the last thing you want.


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Photo Credit:  Philip Harder.