A Small Chat About Image Copyrights

When it comes to image copyrights, I feel really strongly about people who simply take images from the web – images that they have absolutely no rights to. Having been an online writer for several years now (through my own blogs and other websites where I usually write at), I know all too well how easy it is to just snag an image from anywhere on the net and run with it – to pamper one’s blog with pretty pictures.

copyright infringement

The problem with it is that all too often such a pampering will end up costing one dearly (and I’m talking here about money – heavy money at times – see towards the end of the post a link leading to a blog owner who had to do just that to learn her lesson). Not every image on Google or Tumblr or other such places is there for the taking. There are some clear laws about it, and especially bloggers should be familiar with these laws.

Now I’m not talking here about book covers which link back to the book (either at Amazon or the author’s website or the publisher – those are ok, after all we’re talking about said book). I’m talking about random images that seem to fit with the theme of the blog post (like the image in this very post).

When you want to add an image to your blog post to make it more attractive and possibly have more visitors to your page, there are a few options that are perfectly ok to use, but there are some that many people are doing, and it is wrong.

There are really 3 main options to use images in your posts that won’t break copyright rules and laws:

1. The best idea of all: take your own photos. Then you’re sure that nobody will come after you for having stolen their images. Plus isn’t it more rewarding to have your own photos next to your own personal post?

2. Using public domain images. There are a few places online from where you can use public domain images (I won’t go now into all what constitutes public domain as that’s a whole new post altogether. Let’s just say that it’s 90% of what is uploaded to Wikimedia.

Here is a VERY long list of sites that contain public domain images. And yes, places like Pixabay, and similar others are already listed on this page. This is my to-go resource for any public domain photos that I’m pretty safe to use:

Wikimedia public images

Of course, needless to say, is that you should still check each photo carefully that it is indeed in public domain.

3. Using Creative Commons images. These images are not in public domain. They are still copyrighted by the person who made them. However, the owner has allowed the photos to be used by others as they see fit – as long as the page where the original picture was taken from is credited with a backlink (image used in this very post is a Creative Common image).

Now on this aspect, there have been various discussions on what happens if the owner of the picture takes it back from it being Creative Commons. Can we still use that photos?

The answer to this is: YES if you started using the photo when it was still Creative Commons, that photo can still be used as you will be using it under the creative common licensing. Of course, new people who want to use that image and right now is no longer under Creative Commons, they can’t do it.

Here is that part properly described (check under the subheading “What if I changed my mind?”

So in a nutshell, if you used a photo in one of your pages on your blog while the image was in Creative Commons, even though you now see the image as no longer being as such, you don’t have to take it off your page, because you are protected by the Creative Common rules.

4. I’ll add a 4th option here, for those who really really want to use an image and it is Copyright protected. You can ask the image owner for letting you use the image, however, not everyone will reply favorably to this request. Heck, not everyone will reply at all. In this case, you can’t use it, not without an explicit permission from the owner of the photo to use it.

However, having said all that, if you’re not sure, your safest bet is to simply take your own photos. The newer models of cell phones and iPhones and whatnot have a great photo taking ability with very clear and high-quality pictures, so why not do it?

And if you still think that taking a photo and simply crediting it with an  “image courtesy of / or image source” and linking back to the site you stole the photo from is ok, see below for the experience of a book author and blogger who had to pay dearly with big money and lots of legal troubles for this ignorant mistake. If someone decides that you need to pay for using their copyrighted work, trust me, you will end up paying, no two ways about it.


An additional source to get such images is by buying them at various royalty-free stock image websites like iStockphoto.com and similar. But why would you want to spend money on something that it is free and so easy to get – all legally?

So please please please do not simply take any photo from any website that you come across and give a backlink to the site for ‘credit’ – unless the image is in public domain, in Creative Commons licensing or you got explicit ‘ok’ from the image owner, because you can end up getting sued for your mistake. And they will come after you if they set their mind to it, without a doubt.

Afterall, think about it: everyone gets angry when their article or post is stolen and plagiarized, right? So why should it be any different when it comes to stealing images which are the hard work of someone who took the time to shoot a great photo with maybe an expensive camera and had to edit it probably in Photoshop, an expensive software? It is just as hard work as writing an article, in many cases, it’s even more work. So why is one wrong to do and the other ok?

Read part two of this article series called Who Owns This Image You Want To Use In Your Post?

Image credits: Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. I took a map from this website – http://russiamap.org/map.php?map=city-spb-tour and used it for my clients website on a page about the history of Russia, purely for educational purposes.

    It says clearly on this website (actually since 2007) that the image is in the public domain. I also did a search all around the Internet and this image is being used freely and there is not even one mention of copyright. So there is no way I could have possibly known about a copyright on this image.

    So now my client is being sued for using this map as it was apparently under copyright. There was no way we could have found out it had a copyright and we took it from a site that says it was in the public domain.

    If my client loses this court case it means I can post images on the Internet, let people freely use them, change them, and even mention for years that they are in the public domain. Then I can go back and start suing people for large monetary settlements?? How can this possibly be a fair and correct application of copyright law? There was no intent on my part to infringe on copyright.

    Can someone please advise??

  2. I totally agree with you and I often go the same route you do to find them. My rule of thumb is that if it’s not clear whether it can be used, I don’t use it. Many photos can be used but require attribution, so I try to very careful with that as well.

  3. As more and more people begin to use the net for business, blogging and facebook they need education on what is allowable and what is not.
    Education on the right way to do it is so important for everyone, regardless of the consequences, we need to be sharing the right way.

  4. Oh mu gosh this is something that ever blogger should know. I had no idea where to get images so if I didn’t take photos they aren’t on my blog unless the sponsor requests it. I have my blog protected so no one can copy paste anything off of it because I know bloggers that have had images and content taken off of their site. This is certainly something I will come back to when I need to find a random image.

  5. I think I’ve been good so far. I’ve usually used the photos the companies give me to use for their products or I usually take my own photos. Usually I take my own photos. I’ve also just started watermarking my photos. This is really something that most bloggers don’t think about. Thanks for bringing awareness to it.

  6. Like so many others, I am guilty of this in the past when I first got started. Thanks for a very informative post! I’m bookmarking some of the sites you mentioned in case I ever need them.

  7. I am so glad to see you address this issue. I don’t think bloggers realize the consequences of using images that are copyrighted to someone else. They can be sued. And there are so many ways to get photos that are legal to use. I love Wikimedia Commons because they will provide you with the code you need to use the image legally. I also use Pond5.com from time to time because I am willing to pay a $1 to avoid getting sued. I think it’s better to pay a $1 now than to pay a whole lot more later when you get sued.

  8. This is a very important topic. I try to use my own pictures as much as possible. When I get pictures from other places I go to Morgue File and always credit the source.

  9. Such important information! When I first started I was guilty of this, I had no idea. Now I always give credit where it needs.

  10. Many bloggers think it is okay to take a picture off someones site and put it onto their blog. I am sure that most of us have done just that before we knew any better. Thank you for listing the web site that has pictures we can use!

  11. Thank you for this post. I am reblogging your story. It is good to remind all of us on the image copyrights as well as pure courtesy to recognize and link back to creator if their images were used. Once again, thank you for sharing.

  12. Wow, didn’t realise this. Really useful information and links thank you so much. I’m new to blogging and had been using Google Images, assuming they must all be OK re copyright, but I will start using the websites you list instead. Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

  13. ooh – as a relatively new blogger, think I’ve been guilty of this! I have tried to back-link and give credit where I have used a pic…but not always. And I didn’t realise that giving credit wasn’t always recognised!

    Thanks for the sources – will be looking them up in future!

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