Copyright and the use of images found on the web is a confusing subject even for those who have been blogging for a while. It seems that most days I see a question regarding image use posted in the blogger forums I participate in. So, let’s talk images! Here are some recent questions I have come across.
Q: Can I take a picture from Google image search and use it on my site?
A: No. If it is not a picture you yourself took (or purchased the rights from the person who did), you cannot use it without first contacting the copyright owner and getting their permission. Also, good luck finding the actual owner of an image found on Google’s image search… a lot of people reuse images without permission, so finding the real owner can be difficult or impossible.
The only exception to this is if you use the search tools to search for images labeled for reuse with modification.
Q: But my post isn’t sponsored or monetized, can I use it now?
A: It doesn’t matter if the content you are posting is for financial gain or not. Using someone else’s image without getting their permission first is copyright theft. You are posting it on your site that you own, but you do not own the material. Get permission first.
Q: What if I give them full credit for the image?
A: That’s very thoughtful of you, but you still need to ask their permission first before you use the photo… and then you will still have to give them credit since they own the copyright.
Q: What about company logos? Can I use those when referring to that company on my site? Aren’t they considered public domain?
A: Company logos are usually trademarked which means that the company owns it, not you, and not the “public.” So, you will have to contact the company and ask permission to use their logo. A lot of companies will say no to this since use of a logo might cause readers to assume an endorsement or relationship that does not exist.
Q: What if I’m not using the logo to slander or speak ill of the company and am actually praising them? Can I use their logo then?
A: I’m sure the company very much appreciates all the nice things you have to say about them, but what they won’t appreciate is you using their logo without their permission. Ask first.
Q: I’m not linking to the company’s site for financial gain, can I use their logo?
A: You still need to ask first since you do not own the material.
Q: Aren’t all images considered public domain once they are posted on the internet? The internet is public after all!
A: Yes, the internet is public, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all Wild West style. Everything that is on the internet was put there by someone, and that someone owns that material and thus the copyright on that material. The only exceptions are when the material has specifically been released for use by others (older works of previously published writing and songs are a whole other animal, so let’s just focus on images for now). So, if an image/logo/photo.drawing etc does not specifically state that you can use it for the purpose you would like to use it for (typically commercial vs non-commercial and/or modifying the work or not) you will have to ask permission first.
Q: What if I sent an email/called/wrote a letter asking for permission and have not yet heard back from the person. Can I use the image since they are not responding to me?
A: Lack of response on the part of the owner of the work is not a defacto approval to use the image. If they never get back to you to give you permission, you do not have permission.
Q: Where can I get photos that I CAN use?
A: There are plenty of companies on the internet that provide stock images. Here’s a couple I’ve heard good things about from other bloggers:
This service will automatically send you 25 new royalty free images each month.
I have heard a lot of good things from bloggers about this site. $10 a month gets you 10 images of your choice (if you download less, then the credits just roll over to the next month), and each additional image is only $1.
Whenever you purchase photos to use on your site, make sure you read the requirements for use of the photo and are giving proper attribution where required.
You cannot use anything you did not create or do not own the copyright to without permission from the owner/creator. If they do not explicitly state on their site that you can use that particular photo/image/graphic etc. then you will need to contact them to ask permission.