Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Image Copyright for Bloggers: when is right to use images of others in our blog





A lot of us blog for fun, with no other purpose than spreading the word of what we do, interact with others, and have fun doing one of the things we like the most. The problem is, even in fun situations, and when no money or serious business is involved, there's some things we should be aware of to avoid getting in trouble even when we didn't mean to do anything bad. And one of these situations (and possible the most tricky one when it comes to blogging) is the use of images in our blog that don't belong to us.

Is a pretty common practice to just go to a website full of inspiring images (for example Pinterest) save a photo from there, and use it in a blog post, using the typical (souce) at the bottom of the image to link to the original place where the photo belongs to, thinking that is the right thing to do and that the author is quoted correctly. If we're linking to the author and we don't claim the photo as ours, why would it be a problem? If sites like Tumblr and Pinterest do it, why wouldn't I do it? If a lot of bloggers do it that way why I should be different?

Sadly, things are not that easy, and I know of a person who have been sued for things like this, having to pay a bunch of money for something as silly as using a photo on a blog post linking to the source.

Taking a photo that is not ours and posting it in our blog linking to the source is the same as going to a shoe shop, stealing a pair of shoes, and walking around in them with a t-shirt saying: "I stole my shoes from the shop around the corner". This example might sound a little bit extreme, because shoes cost money and images seem to be "free" (which are not) on the internet, but we have to remember that the fact that a photographer (for example) uploads an image on their Flickr account doesn't mean that they want that image used on other websites. That's why most news agencies and magazines pay copyright rights, and why they have a source of stock images to go to every time they need to post about a subject. Otherwise, news agencies would just go to Tumblr and they'd be stocked, but they know way better than that.

In this post I'll try to explain when it's right and when it's wrong to use an image, and which alternatives you have when you want to use an image that you found in somebody else's website. Because every blogger, no matter the size of the blog, should know it. Please, notice that I'm not a law expert, everything in this post came from research, from personal experience, and from experiences others have told me.

Said that, let's start! 


I WANT TO USE A PHOTO IN A BLOG POST I'M WRITING. WHERE DO I GET IT FROM?


  • Use a photo that you have taken. This is the best option for two reasons: a) Because you're a blogger and it says a lot in your favor that you're taking your own photos (even when you're not good at it) and b) because it's the ONLY way to make sure you're not breaking any kind of copyright law. 

  • If you can't use a photo that is yours (for whatever reason) you will have to look online for sites that offer photos with a free license (for example Stock xchng). Make sure that when you use images from those websites you read the conditions, because even if they're supposed to be free to use, there's always an exception to every rule. There's also paying websites that offer the same service, or look in websites like Etsy. It can be really useful to know the Creative Commons logos and codes to know when it's right to post an image. You can find a good guide here.

  • Asking the author of the photo if you can use it in your blog post is also an option. For example, imagine you want to make a blog post about decorating your living room area, and want to share photos of different living rooms that you find inspiring. It can be very tempting to just taken photos from Pinterest and use them in our post linking to the source, but we've already stated how that is not legal. Instead, go to the original source of the photo (usually a blog or a Flickr account), and contact the author. Explain them you want to make the post and that you'd like to use their image. If they approve it, you're free to use it without being scared (but keep the mail just in case).

IF IT'S NOT LEGAL TO TAKE PHOTOS FROM SITES LIKE PINTEREST AND TUMBLR, WHY ARE PINTEREST AND TUMBLR LEGAL WEBSITES?

Good question, I'm glad you asked!

Website owners of sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr are not stupid. At all. When we sign up on their websites and we click on a checkbox that claims that we've read and agree on their terms of service, we're claiming exactly this: that we've read and we agree on their terms of service. Have you read them? Probably not. Do you agree with them? You can't if you haven't read them.

The trick here is that when you're loading something on Pinterest or Tumblr you're agreeing to the statement that you have legal rights on that photo. If you're skeptical about it just take a look at the copyright police of Pinterest, it's pretty clear with it. Pinterest  and Tumblr don't take  responsibility for what's on their websites, the responsibility falls on the users because they were the ones agreeing on the terms. That's why Pinterest it's legal despite everything. And the same goes for Tumblr. More information on it can be found herehere, or here.

With that I'm not saying you should stop Pinning. But you should start doing it more carefully. And the situation just gets more tricky when it comes to "steal" pins to share them on your blog.


WHAT IF I USE A DISCLAIMER ON MY WEBSITE, STATING THAT I DON'T OWN ANY OF THE IMAGES POSTED ON THE BLOG?

When it comes to copyright, having a disclaimer on your blog and having nothing are exactly the same thing. Again, we're going back to the example of stealing a pair of shoes. Having a disclaimer on your blog would be like walking around wearing shoes that are stolen, and carrying the following disclaimer: "The shoes I'm wearing are not mine, but I'll always state clearly where they're coming from. If the shoes belong to you and you don't want me to wear them just ask me and I'll be happy to take them off ".

Rude, right? That's what the authors of copyrighted material think about you when you use a photo on your blog linking to the source.


THERE'S ANY EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE? THERE'S ANY SITUATION IN WHICH I CAN USE AN IMAGE (EVEN ONE WITH A COPYRIGHT) WITHOUT ASKING OR PAYING FOR IT?

Yes, there's a few exceptions:

  • Fair use. In this category fall all those images that are reasonable to use in a blog post for a benefit of the people who will read the blog post, without interfering with the author's rights. It sounds complicated, but there's a very clear example: reviews. Imagine that you're posting a movie review, or a book review, and you're sharing the cover or the poster of it. In that case using the poster of said movie or a photo of the cover of said book would be acceptable, because you're giving your opinion on a product to help others make up an opinion about it. Another example are parodies. You can read more about it here

  • Thumbnails. You can use a copyrighted image on your blog when said image is on thumbnail size (usually a thumbnail is sized a length of 80 to 200 pixels. That's exactly why google is not going against the copyright law when its displaying thumbnail images on its results. And that's also why you can use thumbnail pictures on your blogs (for example when sharing Etsy treasuries) without worrying about the copyright. As long as you keep them on thumbnail image it's perfect.

WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO REMEMBER:
  • Create your own content if you can. 
  • Don't take risks: if you don't know if the image you want to share has a copyright or not, don't share it, better use a safer one that can't get you in trouble.
  • Using images that are not yours linking to the original site doesn't cover your shoulders at all. Also it doesn't matter if your blog is non commercial or if you didn't know you were doing something wrong, or if you just wanted "to share the love". In front of the law none of these are going to be valid excuses. Disclaimers that the photo in your blog are not yours are not going to protect you against anything either. 
  • It doesn't matter if popular bloggers do it, or if most of the blogs you follow do it, or if you think that your blog is so small that nobody will notice. It doesn't matter if you think that this is exaggerate or that it can't happen to you. It can happen to anybody who posts content on the Internet. Be careful!
  • Last, but not least, not only share legal content to cover your shoulders, but also to protect the rights of people who work hard to create original content and who make the Internet a very inspiring place.


11 comments:

  1. Molt interessant. Jo ja he tengut problemes amb aquest tema (gent utilitzant les meves il·lustracions com si fossin seves) i fa molta ràbia... També ho tendré en compte a l'hora de publicar al meu blog.
    Moltes gràcies!

    Laura.

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    1. A mi també em faria moltíssima ràbia, i com a blogger intento tenir molta cura en aquest aspecte. No només perquè els temes legals fan respecte (ens pot passar a tots) sinó també perquè a mi també m'agrada que no em robin el que es meu.

      M'alegro que et sembli interessant!

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    2. Encara que a mi no m'ha pasat (de moment), si que ho he vist moltes vegades :(
      També he vist el cas de gent que agafa una il·lustració, la modifica escrivint-le quatre tonteries i la utilitza pensant que no passa res perque han possat l'autor o l'han enllaçat en lletra xicoteta :/

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  2. Thanks for that interesting article, that should be a reminder but I'm sure for a lot would be some total discovery. I'm always amazed how many bloggers (and even popular ones) that are breaking those rules without any shame.

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    1. Yes, I keep being surprised at how many popular bloggers post photos linking to a source. I want to think that they asked the author, but sadly I think they just took the photo and linked to it without investigating if the photo has any kind of license.

      I'm glad you find it interesting!

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  3. I was quite concerned when I see popular bloggers using images from Pinterest only titled source. And it's starting to catch on among other bloggers. As a blogger who only uses her own images I do allow pinning onto Pinterest, but I would assume that others would ask for permission to use them before posting them on their blog. Guess I was wrong...hope that the word gets out, and this new trend is stopped.

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    1. It's something that concerns me a lot when I see it done too. I get worried that they'll get sued, and at the same time I think it's rude for the person who took the photo and who is really the author of it, because maybe they never gave the permission for the photo to be used.

      Thanks so much for your comment Jen!

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  4. Great topic!! It always amazes me how many popular bloggers are haphazardly using images that I highly doubt they are allowed to use. My obvious choice ;-) would be to snap my own pics, but in lack of the right picture there are also a number of sites that offer stock photography for free, so why not use those? Two of my favorite places to go are http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ and http://pixabay.com/

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    1. It seems to be a very common practice these days, I really don't remember bloggers doing this that much some years ago, I guess sites like Pinterest really helped with it.

      And thanks so much for the blog recommendations, I didn't know these! :)

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  5. Good topic! It's kinda crazy how many people are not aware about this... Any time I use somebody else's image I make sure it's from a site that has free licensed photos or I check the rights on Flickr, or use their special search that gives you results with pictures that can be used freely. I never really thought about it (nor did I really need to) before I started to write for Wit & Fancy where we were specifically instructed to make sure we use free license images.

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  6. Wow you really opened my eyes with this post and there is a lot that I am surprised to learn. Thanks for linking to the stockimages websites (and those found in the comments) and I will definitely be more careful from now on.

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