When you’re creating content for your company blog or website, including an image or two can help liven up your copy. But if you’re not careful about sourcing your photos and stock art, you could risk legal trouble.
What’s more, Google recently announced plans to penalize websites that get flagged for copyright violations, so, whether or not you’re taken to court, you might see your search rankings slump if you try to get away with image thievery.
In order to stay on the right side of the law (and the search engines), follow these tips:
- Don’t steal images. Many blogs simply reuse other sites’ images without permission, claiming authority to do so under the Fair Use doctrine. If challenged, that defense is unlikely to hold up in many cases. Make sure to ask permission to use a photo from another website before republishing it — or risk facing the site owner’s wrath. And no, it’s not OK to grab photos directly from a Google Images search; seek out the original source and request permission. It’s customary when using freely-sourced artwork to give the photographer or illustrator credit and a linkback.
- Buy stock art. Commercial stock images from sites like iStockphoto and Shutterstock are widely available, but once again, it’s important to get permission before using one. This generally involves paying a licensing fee. Pay attention to those licensing requirements, too: Many sites will allow you to use a paid image only one time and in only one location, so you could risk being fined if you use it on multiple pages. (Getty Images is known for being particularly litigious, using bots to identify unauthorized replicas of its images). Make sure that you obtain the proper license for any stock image that appears on your website, even if it is part of a portfolio or a screenshot.
- Use Creative Commons material. Many amateur and professional photographers are willing to let other people display their work for no charge, using the Creative Commons license. This type of license dictates what you can do with it: For instance, some artists only allow their work to be shown on noncommercial sites; others don’t mind commercial uses of their work, as long as they receive proper attribution. To find Creative Commons-licensed work, search CreativeCommons.org for the relevant keywords and attribution rights.
- Sign up for a subscription service. Need news-oriented images, such a photograph of a specific celebrity or event? Chances are you’ll have to pay for a membership with a wire service such as AP Images, Reuters Pictures, or Getty Images. This can be expensive: Although the services don’t publish their rates online, one blogger claims that he was quoted $1,000 for 25 images per month. Unless your business relies on access to topical photos, you’ll save money by sticking with generic stock art.
- Take your own photos. Instead of relying on others’ work, produce your own images. All you really need is a smartphone or a simple point-and-shoot to take high-quality photos for the web. Consider adding a watermark or signature to your original images to further promote your business — and to ensure you get credit where it’s due, too.
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