Is This Image Legal? What Bloggers Need to Know About Copyright

The Internet is becoming an increasingly visual medium, with numerous eye candies floating around the immense cyber ocean. They are employed to spark attention, attract readers, improve the online visibility and drive increased level of traffic. Alas, bloggers, webmasters, and business owners are usually not accomplished photographers or graphic designers, and have to rely on a pool of images crafted by others. Here’s how to navigate the waters when it comes to using others’ images and navigating copyright.

Tipping the Copyright Scales

A well-crafted image may be worth a thousand words (and who knows how many clicks), but facing legal consequences is a consequence you definitely don’t want to find yourself in. Something that’s protected by a copyright is quite common. However, copyright is a complex issue encompassed by a fragile balance between the public’s interest and the right of the creator. Although the scale often tips more heavily towards the former, taking chances is not advisable.

The current copyright laws aim to safeguard the original works of authorship. This protection is attached to content as soon as it is forged and is applicable to both published and unpublished images. The automatism implies that there is no need for any paperwork, or any other action whatsoever, unlike the situation with patents and trademark. The author is entitled to substantial control over the picture, exercising a host of related rights. Namely, one can display it publicly, reproduce it and distribute the copies.

This means that only the express authorization lends others the right to use the image. However, there’s another legal construct that leads to the same scenario – fair use. Fair use is a practice that depends extraordinarily on the existence of the public interest. Therefore, publishers and bloggers do their best to use the image in a limited, responsible fashion, and avoid the hindrance of owner’s freedom to do with it as he or she pleases.

Copyright sign cat graffiti

See How the Wind Is Blowing

Here is a common example of the necessity of understanding copyright and fair use: say you need to write a product review and download the photo from a manufacturer’s website. Most often this fits the description of fair use. On the other hand, images that have been manipulated so that they vaguely resemble the original work are often added to the list of copyright exceptions.

Alas, just because you have linked to the owner, steered clear of commercial use and attributed the image doesn’t mean you’re free of responsibility. It’s advisable that only after taking the hold of what fair use means should an online publisher consider further action. You don’t want to get a cease and desist, or witness your website being taken down. When unaware of how to proceed, it’s always a safe bet to assume that you don’t have the right to put the image on the website, or seek legal counsel.

One of the most prominent image acquisition practices is still related to Google search. People find it convenient to employ the filter “Labeled for reuse” in order to find free images. However, it’s a better idea to choose a tool like Bulkr, which enables you to bulk download from Flickr while avoiding to download copyrighted material. Public domain pictures aren’t subject to copyright regulation, while stock photos and creative commons services that involve a license require either permission or attribution. With so many resources of free images available, so there’s no need to throw caution to the wind.

The Whole Picture

The art of visual storytelling is one of the most effective ways of pulling people in. Numerous bloggers use images to pretty up a post, oblivious to the potential infringement of copyright rules. Well, circumventing the law and jeopardizing other people’s rights to distribute their work is a disaster waiting to happen. There’s a way to utilize images respectfully, without provoking anger from the owner, or receiving stiff fines. Just remember that the fair use practice is still in its infancy, so take baby steps rather than jumping straight into a dangerous pitfall.

Flickr / veryveryquiet |Flickr /dskley

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Written by:
Marcus Jensen is an IT professional. He is an Editor-in-Chief of, and writes about technology, business and marketing.
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