Are your free images LEGAL?? 3 things you need to know about blog images.

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Are your blog images legal?

If you’ve just searched Google for free images, and then saved it to use on your blog, chances are, your blog images are NOT legal. Most of the images you find in search engines are not legally available for anyone to just copy and use wherever they like.

We all know visual content is what attracts readers and viewers. So finding the right image to use on your blog post is definitely important. However, you cannot just take a picture from anywhere on the web. You have to get legal, shareable images!

Why can’t you just use any image online?

Images, graphics, videos, and other visual content are all protected under copyright laws. The creator  — the photographer, graphic designer, or producer — are the owners of that visual content. And when you right-click save on that image, you’re stealing.

Don’t steal other people’s work. 

However, there are a few types of images that are available for use on your site, and some of them are even free.

The types of images you can use on your blog are public domain and licensed images.

What are public domain images?

Public domain images are images that were created in the past. Copyrights are limited to a certain amount of time, and after that time passes, the copyright expires and the works move into the public domain. That means anyone can use them for any purpose.

Currently, in the US, the minimum amount of time for copyright is 70 years after the creator’s death. Some images and other works, however, may have a copyright of 120 years after the death of the creator, so double check your image. The best practice is to assume there’s a copyright on the image, unless you’ve been told otherwise.

Two places to find public domain images are Wikimedia Commons and FlickrCommons. You’ll need to do a reverse image search on your images from these sites just to make sure they are in the public domain, but generally they are safe for use on your blog.

What are licensed images?

Licensed images are images that are available for use under a license. Generally, these are stock photos, designed to be used in commercial or educational uses.

Images with royalties

Some images will have royalties. That means that you’ll pay for them on an ongoing basis. Usually this is when you contract with a specific photographer to provide you with specific images, and every time you use that image, you pay them a fee. Typically royalty images like this are only used by magazines and newspapers.  These images are generally exclusive to the purchaser, and aren’t sold to any other organization or business.

Some licensed images are images that are sold for a small fee. The photographer contributes them to a stock photo site, in exchange for small royalties. You can get these kinds of images on sites such as ShutterStock or DepositPhotos. Or you can try a private photographer that sells stock photos, like Jana Bishop.  Stock photos are images that are sold to many different buyers, so you might see the same stock photo on many different kinds of publications and websites.

Royalty free images

Sometimes you can get royalty-free images licensed under an organization called Creative Commons. Creative Commons issues copyright licenses free to the general public for typically copyrighted work. The owner of the copyright — the photographer, designer or producer — can choose what kinds of licenses they are willing to allow their work to be used under. Some Creative Commons licenses are only for non-commercial or educational work. Some are only to be used if you credit the source. Read licensing requirements carefully.

You can access Creative Commons images on sites like Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash. Generally, anyone can use these images, so you’ll see them a lot!

Why use a stock image?

Stock images aren’t exclusive to one buyer, so why use a stock image? Because they’re useful.

Stock images aren’t designed to be exclusive, or specific to a story. They’re designed to be general illustrations of typical situations and moments. If you need a picture of a bird in flight, you can get a stock photo of a bird in flight. If you need a picture of a bald eagle from Yellowstone National Park in May, you might have to commission a photographer and pay a royalty for that image.

Stock images are often used as backgrounds or to highlight specific points in print articles or blog posts. You can use a stock image in a graphic, and manipulate the image to create something new.  You can add text, icons, shapes, lines, patterns or any other element of graphic design to a stock image.

And when you’ve manipulated that stock image to create something new, you can copyright it!

Why can’t I just use an image from another blog, if I credit my source?

Recently, a client of mine was creating blog posts, and pulling ideas from other blog posts. While she was creating her own content, using other blog posts as inspiration, but not copying, she was directly copying their images. She would then link the image back to the source website in a caption.

But she got quite upset when one of the other bloggers asked her to take it down, or that blogger would seek legal action. She didn’t understand what the problem was.

The problem is that you cannot take another’s image without consent, even if you credit the source. You must have legal consent (and proof of said consent) before you can publish another’s image.

Take your own pictures!

Many bloggers will start to take their own pictures rather than deal with copyrights, licenses and stock photo sites. And this is an excellent source of images. Since these kinds of images are your own work, you can copyright them yourself!

However, there are some legal issues to be aware of when taking your own pictures. Taking pictures of other people or private property without consent (and getting a signed waiver!) and publishing them is illegal.

My personal example:

Recently, I attended a public open house with my children for one of the local government buildings. And they had someone going around taking pictures of the festival. He approached my children and began to take their pictures. So he was stunned when I stepped in front of his camera, and told him he was not allowed to take pictures of my children. He hadn’t asked, and I am very protective of my children’s privacy.

In contrast, I attended a baseball game with my children, and we were approached by a newspaper reporter. He wanted to take our picture to publish in the local paper. I was happy to consent to the picture and the publication of it, and I signed the waiver, while giving the correct spelling of my children’s names.

The difference? Consent!

Get permission to use a picture.

Taking pictures of someone else without their permission is like stealing someone else’s work. If you want a picture of something, you’ll need to get consent. That consent will either be in the form of a license or a waiver. The only pictures you can use freely without consent are those pictures in the public domain.

So check carefully before you use an image on your blog.

Where are you getting your images? Share your favorite stock image site! 

4 thoughts on “Are your free images LEGAL?? 3 things you need to know about blog images.”

    1. It’s good that you’re aware! I love Pixabay, and I still occasionally use them when I can’t find the right kind of image on my subscription site.

    1. You’re welcome! Yes, taking your own photos is probably the easiest way to get stock photos that won’t get you in trouble. But when you can’t, it’s nice to know that there are other places too.

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