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Blogging Pitfalls: Using Google as a Stock Photo Site

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Everyone knows that images help make a good blog post great. Not only do they provide a much-needed visual element to break up the gray text, but they help your content stand out in RSS readers.

Unfortunately though, not everyone has the photography or art expertise to make an image for every post and, even those who do often lack the time or consistently apply it.

So bloggers routinely turn to other sources for their image. Some use screenshots or logos under fair use, others find press photos by the organizations they talk about and still others find licensed works from other aritists.

However, some make the mistake of finding their photos wherever they can and it is a mistake that has cost many bloggers dearly, both literally and figuratively.

The Pitfall

The temptation has been there for all of us. We need an image for a post and we find the perfect one on Google or on another site. We don’t know who owns it or how it is licensed, but we do know it is exactly what we need.

Some bloggers, however, have given into this temptation and simply ignored the warnings on Google Image Search and downloaded the image or, even worse, simply hotlink it directly in the post.

However, little do many bloggers know the potential hazards that come from that seemingly innocent act and the problems it can cause down the road.

The Danger

The problem with this method of acquiring images is that, under modern copyright law, virtually every image you find on the Web is copyrighted. This means that someone, somewhere, owns the rights to that image and can enforce their rights at any time.

Putting a copyrighted image on your site without permission and without a fair use argument is a game of roulette. Most of the time, the copyright holder won’t notice or won’t take any action. However, thanks to tools such as Tineye, tracking images on the Web is becoming easier and cheaper than ever, making it more and more likely rights holders will find out about any kind of misuse.

On the low end, the artist, photographer or their agent may simply send you a cease and desist letter, demanding that you remove the work and that forces you to spend the time and energy not only to replace the image, but also correspond with the other party and ensure everything has been handled.

A more middle-range solution is for the rightsholder to simply file a DMCA takedown notice. However, these can be a tremendous headache that can often result in the temporary closure of your site and, if your host receives more than a few, they may completely remove you from their service.

However, the most extreme, and still somewhat common solution, is to send a demand for monetary settlement. These demands are usually in the thousands of dollars, even for just a single image, and are extremely common for images that are licensed through any number of the large stock photo libraries. Some of these cases have resulted in lawsuits that have, in turn, ended less-than-favorably for the bloggers involved.

In short, though the majority of image use does not go detected, when it does and action is taken, it is at the very least an annoying hassle and, at its worst, a very expensive mistake.

How to Avoid It

Avoiding this pitfall is actually fairly simple. All you have to do is either use images that are legal to use on your site.

These images should fall into one of three categories:

  1. Images You Created: If you took the photo or drew the artwork, you can use it on your site so long as the work you created isn’t infringing in and of itself.
  2. Images You’ve Licensed: You can also use images you’ve obtained a license to put on your site. This can include images from a free stock photo site, such as sxc.hu (where this post’s image came from), Creative Commons-licensed images or images from commercial stock or microstock photo libraries.
  3. Images Used Under Fair Use: Though relying on fair use is always risky, using screenshots of sites you are talking about, logos of companies mentioned in your post, etc. is usually safe.

All in all though, all that’s required of you is to take a few moments and ensure that you have the right to use the photos you place on your site. If you do that, odds are you won’t fall into this pitfall.

Bottom Line

Of all the blogging pitfalls this series will cover, this is one of the few that can have dire consequences for your life offline as well as your site.

The good news though is that it is one that is easy to avoid, you just have to keep these issues in mind when using photos and take a few extra moments before putting images into your posts, you can rest assured that this will not impact you.

Not only will you rest assured knowing that your odds of being accused of infringement are almost zero, but you’ll also know that you’re doing the right thing and supporting the artists and photographers who want their work to be shared across the Web.

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Comments

  1. Jennifer Brown Banks ) says: 5/19/2010

    Johnathan,

    Great topic and very relevant to today’s writer/blogger. I think that for most folks, it’s not a deliberate intent to use a photographer’s work without the right; it’s not knowing. Not to mention, some information is misleading and ambiguous. For example, I’ve done a Google search on “free images” and when I click on the site it requests credit card info. Huh? Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply

  2. Neil Quadros ) says: 5/19/2010

    Hey thanks for sharing this, I’ve been wondering about the same issue and just recently i’ve started to look for the creative commons stuff to use on my website. That’s right after a photographer friend told me one of the pics from his website was worth 1200 INR (140$) for web use only. I had a question, is there any way to figure out which one of your pics is to be paid for and which one is not. Like you mentioned ‘tinyeye’ which is probably something the photographers use to find out who’s using their photos, can we bloggers use it to find out which pics we’re using that we shouldn’t? Or is it to be done the hardway?

    Reply

  3. Jenny says: 5/19/2010

    Jonathan, great post for helping bloggers be aware of potential copyright infringements. So many bloggers simply don’t realize that almost everything is copyrighted and getting a demand for monetary settlement can be a nightmare (these are common among larger companies — most recently I heard about People Magazine doing this).

    As you mention, there are a lot of free and cheap resources for royalty-free images (not to be confused with copyright-free), but as Jennifer points out these claims can be misleading or confusing, so it’s important to read the fine print, particularly in the terms of use.

    Neil, you can upload the pix you’ve used into Tineye and see if they come up, but this is by no means foolproof because Tineye’s database is limited. Try searching Google images as well, maybe some of your images were originally posted there?

    Reply

  4. David ) says: 5/19/2010

    Excellent post Jonathan.

    @Jennifer: actually it is isn’t confusing at all. If you don’t have the author’s authorization don’t use it.

    @Neil: you can also use TinEye to look up authors. It works both ways. But if you can’t find the photographer, don’t use it.

    David

    Reply

  5. Jonathan Bailey ) says: 5/19/2010

    @Jennifer: David said it best. If you don’t have permission, don’t use it. You can get permission many different ways, but you have to get it somehow first. Glad you liked the post!

    @Neil: Tineye can and often does work both ways, but where you find trouble is when more than one person is taking credit for an image. Those situations are more trouble than they are worth usually. My advice is to simply start with libraries of known ownership and search there rather than trying to find images on the Web and finding owners. It’s just easier. Thank you for the praise!

    @Jenny: I agree you should always read the fine print on any image you plan on using. That goes with anything in life though, not just copyright. :)

    @David: Glad you liked the post!

    Reply

  6. Tim Gander ) says: 5/20/2010

    Jonathan, Thank you! Finally some common sense advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

    Bloggers should also be aware that blogs used to attract visits to a corporate/commercial site will be seen as commercial blogs, even where it’s just a SEO tool. There is no defence in saying it’s a non-commercial part of the business website.

    Family and strictly personal blogs still need to follow the rules, but penalties for strictly non-commercial use may not be as high.

    I’m always warning business bloggers of the dangers of copyright infringement, but they just think I’m being a precious spoilsport. I’ll send them a link to this article from now on.

    Reply

    • Chris Favero ) says: 5/22/2010

      Can I ask how word press plug Ins like apture work within the law? The apture plug in allows linking and embedding of almost any content it seems. I assume that that is also infringing on the law if you use apture to embed a google image? Just curious really as I downloaded and was playing around with it and then came across this post.

      Thanks!

      Reply

  7. Still Pond Photography ) says: 5/23/2010

    Thanks for posting this. As someone whose images have been used without my permission, I hope that bloggers will become aware that if I was actually asked for the use of my image, I would probably give permission – especially on personal type blogs. The most bothersome use of my images without any permission have been on commercial sites that have used the images with the intent of promoting a business, or for advertisement.

    Reply

  8. Nancie (Ladyexpat) ) says: 5/23/2010

    Good post. I am tired of finding my photos on other blogs without any mention that I am the photographer, let alone my permission. At the moment I am trying to have one of my photos removed from a site which I consider offensive and am having a very difficult time doing so. Some blogs and websites simply make it next to impossible for you to track down a live human being.

    My Flickr profile clearly states that if you are not making money from your blog I will probably give you permission to use one of my photos. All people have to do is ask.

    Reply

  9. Tim Crey ) says: 10/21/2011

    What an amazing stock photos .This is nice photography bog …………
    stock photography

    Reply

  10. Jacques ) says: 12/27/2011

    Being a photographer myself, I agree with Still Pond that it’s best practice to ask the owner of the image if it’s copyright is in question. Just using images for commercial use could land someone in some serious trouble.

    Reply

  11. Adriana says: 2/26/2012

    thanks for share!

    Reply

  12. Jo Ellen Peters ) says: 3/12/2012

    My former fiance is an amateur photographer and had taken pictures of me and my family. I have copies of the images on my computer. He has informed my he is going to get them copyrighted and I no longer have permission to use the. I use one of the images of me on my website, business card and as a profile picture on several social media websites. I feel like these images were gifts and I received them before the copyright, so they are mine. Any ideas?

    Reply

  13. Xara says: 3/30/2012

    Hi I appreciate you for the informaton, its interesting but I still have few questions and concerns regarding Images or copyright law. At present I’m in mid launch of a typical new blog/site dicussing Game Reviews and game playing in overall . However I ideally might need to show images/photos of these games on my site.
    Would it be legel for me to just take images via the Founder from the games and publish them on my website, or would I must get in touch with the makers everytime I planned to execute a new post? I’m somewhat sure it could be legal for me to purchase the game titles myself and after that take pictures which I post to my online site?
    Just one final query if you do not mind, would be Tv linked, if I were to take a screen shot of any Tv program could I legitimately present that on my internet site? Many thanks for your time.

    Reply

  14. Sarah S. says: 5/21/2013

    Thanks for the simple definitions and comparisons. While not legally important, another issue to consider when you’re using stock photographs is the “generic” look you often get (you know, those photos that don’t have anything unique about them, and they can be seen on numerous other blogs and sites). I’ve gotten frustrated with iStock and ShutterStock, and my new fave stock photography site is http://www.RedPixelImages.com. A freelance writer turned me on to them, and I can buy the “extra small” file sizes (perfect for blogging) at affordable prices. If you come across any other sites similar, please share!

    Reply

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