Christy here… and along with the tip we’re sharing, I want to start with sharing an experience I personally went through. Years ago I had a client that sold canes and walking sticks. Early in her business history when full color, printed catalogs were still the thing, she had gotten permission from the company she got her walking sticks from to use the picture they had in the catalog – they gave her a digital version, and all was good. Fast forward a few years. Catalogs were no longer sent and everything went online, but she in good faith continued to use the picture they had sent her.
Until… until both she and I got a letter from an attorney in the mail representing a photographer that had his photos with a stock image company. They claimed she did not have a license to use the image (it was now a stock image) and they wanted thousands of dollars from each of us because of the violation. We both met with a copyright attorney and she explained what had happened previously. He said that without the proof from the company there wasn’t much that he could do. She took full responsibility and got me off the hook since the picture went on the site long before she started working with me. In the end, the fee was lowered but she had to pay several thousand dollars even though she had not done anything wrong. If she had kept a record of the approval, she would have been able to fight and win.
I share this story because it fires the WHY behind the tip we want to share this week!
The legalese of using images
It really isn’t that difficult. If you didn’t take the picture or purchase the stock photo, if you “found the picture on Google”, or “found it online”, you don’t have automatic permission to use it. And, there are a ton of online resources that dig deeper into the actual legal wording.
There are four ways to use images online legally.
- Take the picture. Or, pay a photographer to take photos for you.
- Ask permission to use the image from the company that owns it.
- Use photos from stock photo companies.
- Use images that come from free sites, have creative commons rights, or are from public domain repositories.
Taking the picture
The first is simple. You own that photo. BUT, do you have written permission for the people that are in the photo? If you have a person in the pictures, especially if they are underage, you must have a signed model release (for kids, their parent/guardian must sign). Here’s one that our team has used.
When asking permission, I recommend that you include the following in your email to the person/company:
- A link to the page the photo is currently on.
- The photo itself.
- How you will be using the photo.
If they respond with a “yes, permission granted”, then print off the entire email string, making sure you have a print of the photo as well. Save this with your important business papers.
Using stock photography
As the need for image use online grew, many photographers and graphic designers started making images and “selling” them via stock photography sites. In order to get an image without a watermark on it, you pay for it. Depending on the site, you may be paying a different fee depending on the size. But, when you pay for the image, you now have the right to use that image within the licensing provided. And, for most sites, you can either have a monthly subscription that covers a number of photos or purchase credit packs if you don’t need images that often.
Creative Commons repositories
Amid all the copyright jargon, what does Creative Commons mean? From the mouth of those who created it:
The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
You can copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. See Other Information below.
If you’re doing a lot of blogging or social media posting on a tight budget, not having to pay for stock photos is a plus. That’s where using photos from websites that offer images for free is safe. We found a great list of 10 sites on Foleon.
Public Domain images
A public domain image is defined as a photo, clip art, or vector whose copyright has expired or never existed in the first place. These images can be used by almost anyone for personal and commercial purposes. There are three ways that public domain images occur:
- The image is assigned to the public domain through a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license or similar release.
- The image is not copyrightable.
- The copyright for the image has expired.
There are a number of websites that have public domain images. 99Designs.com put together a great list that should get you started.
If in doubt, double-check, and when you grab a creative commons or public domain image, make sure you note which site you got it from and when. And, it doesn’t hurt to print their licensing page so you’ve got proof in case your image is ever called into question.
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