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Warning! That Image on Your Blog Post Could Cost You Thousands

Are your blog images in violation of copyright laws?
Are your blog images in violation of copyright laws?
Are your blog images in violation of copyright laws? Read this to find out! Then learn where to find really nice, FREE and legit photography for your blog posts.

Are your blog images in violation of copyright laws?

Is your blog in violation of copyright laws?

Do you know for sure that the images you use in your blog posts are actually legal for you to use?

We all know that images make our blog posts more noticeable and attractive, not to mention Pinnable.

But where do you find the images that you’re using? Depending on where you’re downloading them from, you may be violating copyright laws even if you’re giving credit to the owner of the photograph.

Unfortunately, there seems to be an idea that if you find an image on Google, then you’re free to use it. Think about it, how many images have you seen on Pinterest that click back to a Google search?

Not only is that infuriating (I like to know what article the image originated from), it’s wrong and it’s illegal.

Is this familiar?

You’re writing a blog post about cupcakes and so you do a Google or Pinterest search for delicious cupcake photographs to include in your post. You find one, right-click it and choose “Save as,” then upload it to your post and credit the photo in the caption with a link back to the website where you found it.

Done deal right?

Not exactly. You see, how do you know that the site you got the photo from actually owns that photograph? They may have stolen it themselves or they may have bought it from a stock photography site (which means only they hold the license). Or maybe it’s their own photo, but that doesn’t mean that they want you using it on your blog.

“Oh so what?” you think. Maybe right now your blog is mostly personal or it’s still kinda small time so you might think “who will know, right?” Well, there’s always the possibility you may never get caught for stealing images, but besides it being unethical, with image search getting more and more sophisticated, why take the chance of being fined thousands of dollars?

Even if the owner of the image doesn’t sue you, you could be spending a lot of time communicating back and forth with the owner (or a lawyer) and/or extricating your image(s) from your blog and products.

And THAT doesn’t sound like fun!

Photography for Your Blog

Today marks the first post in a series on Photography for your Blog. Over the next several weeks on DYOB, you’ll learn how to select images to illustrate your business or brand, how to start taking better blog photos, how to create those cool quote images you see all over Pinterest and also THE Absolute Definitive Guide to Finding Free (and Legit!) Photography.

So stay tuned to DYOB and stay in the know by subscribing to the post feed and newsletter now.

Alright, so back to today’s post where we’re talking about possible copyright issues when selecting imagery for your blog…

Understanding the Different Types of Image Licensing

There are basically 4 different licensing models when it comes to stock photography: Rights Managed, Royalty Free, Creative Commons and Public Domain. Let’s start with the first.

Rights Managed

image licenses rights managedRights Managed basically means that you pay for an image based on how many times and how many places it’s being used and/or viewed. Calculations on rights managed image costs can get complicated. Some licenses cover an image only for a certain amount of time, and some depends on the size that the image will be used (i.e. quarter page, full spread, or billboard).

What this means for you as a blogger: Because of these restrictions and the high cost, it doesn’t make any sense to use rights managed images on a blog or website.

Royalty Free is Not Free

image licenses royalty freeSadly there are many people who think that Royalty Free images mean they are free to use, however they please. Not so fast. Royalty Free just means that you don’t pay a royalty for each instance that you use the image, like you might do with Rights Managed images.

Once you’ve purchased a royalty free license, you can use the image multiple times with no time limit. There are some restrictions however: you can’t use it in a template and resell it, for example.

What this means for you as a blogger: Royalty Free images can be inexpensive and are great for blog posts, web ads, videos, ebooks and digital products without attribution.*

Creative Commons

image licenses creative commonsCreative Commons is actually an organization that has released several copyright licenses for owners of creative works to communicate which rights they reserve and which they waive. This does not mean that these creative works do not have copyright, it just means that the licenses are based upon those copyrights.

There are 7 Creative Commons licenses, creatives can offer:

  1. Attribution means that the owner allows you to distribute, remix, tweak and build upon their work, even commercially as long as you credit them for the original work. These images are perfect for blogs because you can use them in posts and products with credit the owner.
  2. Attribution-NonCommercial same as above, but you can’t use their work commercially. In other words, you could use the photo in a blog post, but not in an ebook you’re selling.
  3. Attribution-NoDerivs is the same as Attribution, except you can’t make any changes to the original work. You can use the image in a blog post or product but you won’t be able to crop, rotate or change colors on a photograph with this license.
  4. Attribution-ShareAlike licenses let you remix, tweak and build upon the original work for commercial or non-commercial purposes as long as you credit it AND license your new creation under the same terms. This means that if you wish to share your new work, like say a free ebook, it must carry the same license.
  5. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. Same as the license above, you just can’t use it commercially.
  6. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs is the most restrictive CC license, meaning you can use the creative work with attribution, but you can’t use it commercially and you can’t alter it in any way.
  7. Zero is the least restrictive CC license. It means that the owner of the work has waived all rights and you are free to use the image as often and however you wish, however you like, with no attribution.
  8. What this means for you as a blogger: Creative Commons images are great for bloggers because they are monetarily free and you can use most of them in blog posts, ebooks and products. Just be sure to give attribution each time you use one and be careful about where you use a non-commercial image. Of course you won’t need to attribute images with a CC Zero license.

    Check out The Big Guide to Free Creative Commons Images for Your Blog Posts.

    Public Domain

    image licenses public domainThe last type of licensing I want to talk about today is Public Domain. Images or works in the Public Domain mean that their intellectual property rights have actually expired, been forfeited or are inapplicable., according to the Wikipedia.

    What this means for you as a blogger: Public Domain images are free to use whenever and wherever you’d like, no strings attached!

    Check out The Big Guide to Free Public Domain Images for Your Blog Posts.

    What About Social Media?

    To be honest, this is still a grey area from what I understand. But if you’d like to know more about this, there’s an article by Cindy W. Morrison about image copyright in social media here.

    How Do I Know if Images I’ve Already Used are in Violation?

    If you decide to do an inventory of the images on your blog and come across an image you can’t recall where it came from, use a tool called Tineye to search for it. Tineye allows you to upload an image or enter the image URL (right-click the image and select “Copy Image URL”). A list of websites, including stock image sites using the image is returned.

    This could help you identify where it came from and you can most likely find the terms of use in one of the results. You might try this with your own images too just to see who’s using them!

    It may seem like a pain to keep track of all this, but not only is it so important, it’s also fair to the original creator of that image. If in doubt about whether or not to use an image, err on the side of caution and assume that it’s copyrighted unless stated otherwise.

    To Sum Up

    All images and creative works were created by someone who most likely put a lot of thought and/or work into it, so it’s only fair that we treat those works with respect. If you are careless about the images you choose, it could cost you dearly in time and in many cases, money.

    *Read the Terms, Read the Terms, Read the Terms!

    It pays to be extra diligent when selecting images to use on your blog and in any of your products or marketing materials. How do you make sure you’re not violating any laws? I’ll say it again: read the terms of use for any image that you don’t own directly.

    What Images You Can & Can’t Share [Infographic]

    So how do we get beautiful images to add to our site

    without violating copyright laws and without having to spend money for stock photography?

    Check out my series on blog photography, including a few lists of resources to find free Public Domain photos, free Creative Commons photos and free Feminine Styled Stock photos! Subscribe in the box below to keep up with the series!

    Have you done an inventory of the images on your blog? Got any thoughts or questions on image copyrights? Please share them in the comments, I love to hear from you guys!

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  • This is one of the best articles I’ve read on selecting blog images. Thank you so much for putting all the different licences and terms into such an easy to read format.

  • I’m uber careful about images! I have a group of sites I find free and royalty-free images at, and I have had to purchase some when I can’t find what I need at a free source. Sometimes I’ll do a Google image search to get an idea of the kind of picture I might need (this happens when I’m writing about something abstract like “waiting”). Then I see what comes up, decide on what I’m going for, and go find it at a free/legal source. This is such a necessary post!

    • Marianne says:

      Lisa, I do that too when I can’t picture a concept. I usually search in or something to see what comes up as a result. Good idea to search Google images too because I’m sure it’s much more varied.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • I just started to blog in May ( and was wondering how everyone added photos to their posts.
    Many bloggers don’t acknowledge who the photo belongs to.
    I am very aware of licensing because as an interior designer we see a lot of our photos being used without our knowledge.
    I will have to go back into my posts and review the photos.
    Excellent post!!

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Robin,
      I’m glad you liked it. And what a shame that your photos have been used without your knowledge. I’m curious what you do in those cases? Do you ask them to take them down, or give you credit or ignore it?

      • I ask to be given credit for my photos or if someone is using the photos as THEIR portfolio (yes, some designers cheat) I ask them to be removed.
        The internet has caused a lot of copyright issues and I am still amazed to see bloggers posting photos with no credit, who the designer was, and many times the professional photographer owns the photos.
        Houzz and Pinterest probably have the most violations.
        I am happy for someone to post my photo as long as I get mentioned.

  • I am so glad you are covering this topic. It cannot be said enough how important it is to properly attribute and credit images. I see so many blogs that think just a link back is enough. Nope.

    You have to pay attention to the license first and foremost. I often still credit an author if I know it and link to the license statement. That way others know the terms of attribution.

    There are a lot of great resources out there. I want to add Death To Stock and Upslash which are resources for royalty free stock photos that are awesome.

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Susan, so glad you appreciate it! I like your idea of linking back to the license.

      I love Death to the Stock Photo and Unsplash is one of my faves. In fact, they’ll both be part of the huge guide to free photography!

  • Hi Marianne! This is SO helpful. I look forward to this entire new series. It will be great to have this info all in one spot. Will you also be able to cover how to “protect” your own photos? Is it best to just add a watermark??

  • Kendra says:

    When I started my site I made the decision that I would use only photographs that I had personally taken so that I would not have to worry about all of that. Now I just need to learn to take some other types of photos. But am looking forward to the next installments…

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Kendra, that’s great that you take all your own. I hope you find some useful sites in my big list in case you can’t always take what you need to take a photo of.

  • Emma says:

    Great post. You break the issues down into very digestible pieces. Looking forward to the next instalments. I take 90% of my own images, but if I want something eye catching, or with a person in it, I don’t mind paying. I also hate watermarked images, but I’m coming round to the idea that I should do it.

    • Marianne says:

      Thanks Emma! I don’t think that watermarking is too bad and you’re right… it’s almost coming down to it being a necessity. Maybe if you had a nice, circular watermark in the corner of your photograph? Big enough to render the photo unusable, but not something that’s splashed diagonally across it? Not sure if that would work or not…..

  • Thank you for posting this article. It is very helpful.

  • I’ve been extra careful from the start! I use creative commons for all of the photographs that I don’t personally take and make sure to attribute all of the required information (author, license, site, etc). This is a great post on the subject with lots of useful information!!

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Amber Kristine! You’re very smart and it’s good to hear that most of my readers are smart like you too! I’m so glad to hear that this helped you too ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hi Marianne,
    Thanks for the full detailed post!
    It contains a full detailed info on all what we would need, but I still have a question:
    Is it ok to set the attribution link to no-follow?

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Dima, that’s a really great question! But I’m hesitant to answer it only because I don’t know enough about nofollow other than the general idea of it. I would think it would be ok to add it, but maybe someone else might have a better answer?


  • Clara says:

    Despite everything, image theft is still rampant. Some people will have to learn the hard way.

    • Marianne says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more Clara. I hope that at least with some knowledge being spread, it will become less rampant, even if it’s just a little.

      With that said, please share this article! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Hi Marianne,

    Nicely explained. I did know a few of the ones under the CC license but didn’t know there were so many under it. Also didn’t know royalty free meant we could use it any number of times on any of our sites. Thanks for clarifying.

    All the images on my blog are CC licensed. The only problem could be with the one used on the rightside of my blogs’ header. I have edited it to adjust the height and width. Also I don’t know how to attribute that image. Should I attribute it on my homepage?

    There also may be a few cases where there were no small sizes of the image available on flickr and I had to reize them for using in the ”featured image” of my posts. Am I in any danger having resized them?

    Thanks for the explanation, once again.

    • Marianne says:

      Resizing images is not an issue Raspal, so don’t worry about that.
      As for the image in your header, do you know where it came from? If so, what are the terms? Does it say you need to give attribution? If so, then I would think that a note in your footer or bottom of your sidebar should suffice. It would never hurt to directly contact the photographer too if that would make you feel better about using it. 9 times out of 10, the photographer is happy to allow you to use their photos how you wish, especially if you went to the effort of asking.

      If you do not know where it is from or the terms of use, I would highly suggest selecting a new image. Something like that would be quite common to find elsewhere so I’m sure you would have no problem.

  • It’s from flickr with a CC licence. Sure, I can find similar images. I don’t remember whose image it is, but doing an image search using this exact image, Google will tell whose image it is on Flickr! Will contact the person who owns it and if they still want me to attribute them, I’ll add it in the footer.

    Thanks for your reply. Very helpful.

  • Lesa says:

    Great article and so VERY important. One of my clients posted an image on her blog when she was just getting started and didn’t know what she was doing. She found it on Google and thought, like so many people do (why I don’t really understand, honestly), that it was therefore free to her to use. Several years passed and nothing happened. Then, last year, she got a letter in the mail. Not a “cease and desist” letter (which asks in no uncertain terms to stop doing what you are dong) but a bill — for $4,000! It turns out that the person she “borrowed” the image from didn’t have permission to use it either!

    It pays to pay attention to where what you post comes from. I’d expend this to social media sites like Pinterest as well. I see a lot of people downloading images from Facebook and then uploading them as pins on their Pinterest page. Bad idea. You’ve in essence just stolen that image for your own use. Better plan: do a google search for the original article that contained that image (or use the tool mentioned above) and pin to that page. This way, your pin links back to the original article and copyright is retained by the original poster.

    Again, great article.

    • Marianne says:

      Great advice Lesa, thanks for chiming in! That is so crazy about your client! I assume she didn’t end up having to pay considering someone else was swindling her on it?

  • I rarely use any other photos than my own, but when I do I go to either morgue file or dollar photo club. I think both of those are okay, aren’t they? Morguefile specifically states that there’s no need to credit or link back in any way, and dollar photo club seems okay from what I’ve read.

  • Actually I have images from years and years ago that I need to go back and redo using my own photos. In 2006 when I started up my blog, not only did I not know a thing about copyright, but no one I knew even knew what a blog was!

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Jill!
      I think you are right…. we have learned a lot over the years since the blogosphere has progressed! No need to replace with your own photos if you’re using Morguefile or Dollar Photo Club. Those are perfectly ok to use. Unless of course you feel it would enhance your articles to have different photos in there.

      Btw, i like your humor on your blog, it’s quite refreshing! I wish I could be that funny! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Evelyn says:

    I think you may have saved from a lot of troubles. I just found out how ignorant I am after reading the whole blog post. From now on, I shall be careful in choosing photos. But what if there is no mentions of the terms&conditions that comes with the picture I’m interested in using? Should I just contact the person directly?

  • Vasil Georgiev says:

    Thanks for the post.Just wondering how someone can suspect that your photo is not purchased in case same shows up on tens and hundreds of other blogs.If the image is unique, then this is possible.

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Vasil, the owner can search Google for instances of their photograph, then can contact you to ask you for proof of purchase. This happened to me once with one of the fonts I’m using on my website. I was able to show him the receipt and it was fine.

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