Avoiding Online Image Copyright Issues

Copyright Stamper

We all know that images – photos, graphics, even animated GIFs – can significantly up the appeal of websites,blogs and other social content. And, many of us approach the use of such images with the mistaken assumption that “if we found it online and there’s no copyright notice, then it’s in the public domain and is free to use.” Those who are more cautious may borrow an online image while citing and linking back to the original source, assuming that eliminates any potential ownership issues.

Unfortunately, giving attribution by citing the image’s source, or even linking back to it, doesn’t absolve you from copyright infringement laws. And while many, many image originators do nothing about their photos being commandeered for online use, others are not so generous. Increasingly, photographers are hiring attorneys to submit cease and desist notices and are demanding payment for their properties’ use.

One cautionary tale can be found here.

Of course, a bulletproof solution is to create your own images and photos. But few of us have the skills to produce professional looking images, and hiring commercial photographers can be expensive.

The good news is that there are legal sources for free or low-cost images that can be used without copyright or royalty issues. Here are a few:

Free Images in the Public Domain. Many think that any image without a copyright notice (©) is in the public domain, which isn’t true. Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, been forfeited or are inapplicable (source: Wikipedia). Many web sites curate such works that are “publicly available.” For example, morgueFile and Stock Free Images both offer free, high-resolution public domain stock images and photos.

"PHOTOS" Web Button (pictures art view share social media blog)Membership/Subscription Image Sites. Other sites provide high-resolution, royalty-free images for a relatively low purchase price. Dollar Free Images has a monthly/yearly membership fee that, once paid, enables members to purchase individual images for one dollar up to a set number of images. Foap is another site that lets you buy credit “packages” that can be redeemed for images (the larger the credit package, the more the image prices are discounted). Similarly, Shutterstock offers reasonable pricing for images on a “pay as you go” model, as well as monthly/yearly subscription fees for heavier image users. 

There are many other sites like these that can be found through a Google search.

Understand that these sites’ business models vary, so be sure to check the terms of each to determine what rules apply to image usage. Case in point: Flickr’s Creative Commons is another popular image site but its rules differ from photo to photo with regard to attribution, commercial versus noncommercial use, and with regard to restrictions on derivative works (which means the image cannot be altered in some way).

In some aspects, the Internet is still very much an online Wild West. But there are growing restrictions, especially as they relate to intellectual property protection. Understanding copyright and obtaining images “by the books” can help you avoid potential problems and unforeseen costs with regard to your social content.

What’s your company policy for obtaining images for use?

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