Photos you can use on your blog without breaking the law…
By: Jennine Jacob

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Image by Digital Sophia

What kind of photos can  you use on your blog?

Sure there are loads of bloggers who lift images from other sites, but due to copyright infringement laws, they may be breaking the law, and vulnerable to lawsuits. Yuck. So which images can you use?

Referencing the source, isn’t always enough. Some websites will allow  you to use their images for a fee, as I heard this morning from a blogger who was notified by a well-known fashion website that she had to pay to use their images… Now, I love copyright law as much as the next gal, but this particular website asks bloggers all the time for free images, and they certainly benefit from the traffic bloggers drive to their site. I had half the mind to write an angry letter to them, then I realized that maybe it’s us bloggers who should band together and start charging them to use our photos, they certainly have more money than us.

Before I digress… while you may not be able to use images from some of the big fashion sites on your own blog, that doesn’t mean that you’re at a loss. There are plenty of images out there that are free to use, you just familiarize yourself with the different kinds of licensing, and different sourcing procedures.

Take your own photos

When I was in design school, our teachers encouraged us to take our own photos. Why? Not because they just liked giving us additional work, but because they said that designers who use stock photography all looked the same. I think it’s also true with blogs. Most of the best fashion blogs out there take their own photos, because you’re really seeing things from the authors unique perspective. Learning about photography is also fun, and you’re site will benefit from having a distinct look and feel from it that will stand out from the rest. And no one can sue you unless you publish a picture of someone without a model release.

Ask for press photos

I’ve had pretty good luck with this, designers and boutiques want to get the word out about their products, and they will most likely have press photos for you to use. Though this usually works with smaller designers and businesses… I’m sure that will change in the next few years. Also, many times in a PR pitch, if something looks interesting, you can ask the PR rep for press images. A lot of times I’ll get better images from the press office than from the website, so it’s worth it contact them. And a lot of times they’ll put  you on their newsletter, so you’ll get an update with any new developments… which could be good for future posts.

Public domain

Public Domain images are so old, their copyright has expired, or they have no copyright, no restrictions on use and are owned by the public. Flickr is working on a great project called ‘The Commons‘ which is a collection of public domain images from some of the best sources, Library of Congress, NY Public Library, the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Scotland are just a few. You’d be surprised how many great images are under the public domain. Oh, and also one of my favorite sites, Karen’s Whimsy has great free clipart to use.

Creative Commons

Neither of my websites would be the same without Creative Commons. I have it bookmarked in my tool bar, and I use it almost every day, particularly for my more abstract posts (like this one!). You must take note, that not all photos on Flickr are free to use. Some of them are marked ‘All Rights Reserved’ and you need to get permission to use them. The ones marked ‘Some Rights Reserved’ are more than likely under the Creative Commons license. Under the Creative Commons license there are a few things you have to familiarize  yourself with…

Attribution 2.0 Generic- Means you can share (use) remix, alter, crop the images, and you MUST credit the photographer. I tend to use photos with this license, becuase I like cropping, and writing on images.

Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic- Means you can share (use) remix, alter, crop the images, and you MUST credit the photographer, but you may not use these for commercial purposes.

Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic -means you can share (use) the photos but you can not alter, crop or write on them. You MUST credit the photographer.

Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic- you can share (use) the photos but you can not alter, crop or write on them. You MUST credit the photographer. You may not use these for commercial purposes.

I know it looks like a lot to learn, however Flickr makes it easy, just look on the side navigation with all the tag and group information, it’s listed in that area with a link to what kind of license it is.

Stock Images

These sites also offer free stock photography, here you’ll be able to get some relatively good quality photos, and many of them offer them in press quality, shall you decide you need to make printed matter. The Stock Exchange and Every Stock Photo are worth checking out. iStockphoto has relatively cheap photos and vector graphic to use in case… but they aren’t free, however, if you’ve been taking  your own photos.. it might be a good place to sell some and maybe make an extra buck or two.

Disclaimer: I may be related to some lawyers, and I even  have some lawyer friends… but I’m not a lawyer.  This post it suggestive only and not to be taken for legal advice.

Resources

Comments

  1. Excellent post! This is something I often worry about, and am even guilty of (that is, lifting photos and simply crediting them).

  2. Jesspgh says:

    This was recently very much on my mind when I wanted to blog about full-skirted coats, using the Sartorialist’s picture of two women walking arm in arm. My original post included a screen capped version of the photo but then I looked on his site to see if he allowed people to use them so long as he was credited. He didn’t so I quickly removed it and opted for a link instead. It certainly took away from the visual appeal of the blog entry, though.

  3. Jennine says:

    ❤ ashe… i’ve done it too a lot, particularly in the beginning, but i’m really trying my best to not .. thought sometimes….
    ❤ jesspgh… hmm wow, i’m a bit shocked that he has such a strong statement on his blog, as it seems that no one pays attention (i admit i have taken from his site in the past, though not recently) i’m interested to wonder how successful his blog would be without all the bloggers quoting his work.

    that’s another thing i wonder about… how relevant are copyright laws going to be in the future? how are they going to change? will they then experience the same issues as the record industry?

    • Nik says:

      Dear Jennine,

      As a relatively new fashion blogger, I’m still getting to know the “major” players out there. I just visited The Sartorialist blog briefly, and I think his copyright warning is standard and just asks that permission be granted first. There’s a reason it’s there, even if very few people respect it, as mentioned below.

      The frustrating thing about Intellectual Property is if you don’t protect it, you lose it. If someone infringes your copyrights (by posting one of your photos to their site without your permission, etc.) and you do nothing for a long time and then decide to sue, it’s quite possible that a court would not enforce your rights if you neglected to do so on your own when you first found out about the infringement. In other words, by doing nothing, you impliedly gave the other person permission to use your work because you didn’t tell them to stop and it’d be really unfair to try to sue the person after it seemed you didn’t have a problem with what they were doing.

      I think copyright laws are going to continue to grow more complex, which will make it more difficult for creative folks like you and I to express ourselves and our work through blogging. That’s why I appreciate posts like yours that are so helpful!

  4. alixrose says:

    Thank you so much for this. I credit the pictures, but its nice to know how I can be more thorough about this.

  5. This is one of the most helpful posts I have come across as a newbie blogger!

    I love using pics in my posts but my lack of copyright knowlege has been playing on my mind so thanks for all the info and the suggestions on where to find images :)

  6. WendyB says:

    “i’m interested to wonder how successful his blog would be without all the bloggers quoting his work. ” == the answer to that would, I believe, be not at all.

  7. tim says:

    So if i go into a fashionstore and take pics of what i want to blog about e.g. a new brand of clothing i am on the safe side of things?

  8. Sweety P says:

    This is very helpful post! Sometimes I rather not cover events that I can’t attend because I can’t take my own pictures such as The Grammy’s, Oscars, and Fashion Week. I though that it’s okay to use photos as long as you have a link to the original photo and acknowledge the author. But, I guess i have been doing that wrong.

  9. This is a great post because I know that I’m very guilty of doing this. It’s sometimes hard to find right images that you can use so this is a great resource. In my experience Creative Commons has been a great place to find poignant images.

  10. Yeesh! Thanks for the info. Makes me not want to link other people’s work…

    I’m glad to hear that people aren’t coming down too hard on the blogosphere, but the looming threat is enough for me to take my camera with me everywhere.

  11. Jennine says:

    ❤alixrose…yes, you’ll probably end up bring more thorough as time goes on…
    ❤whattheprosdo…thanks, i’m glad to be of help. it’s a bit daunting at first, but once you get into it, it’s not that hard
    ❤wendy… yep, enough said.
    ❤sweety, it’s a grey area, we’re not supposed to use it, but i’ve yet to hear anyone actually do anything about it. my thought is the big fashion websites don’t crack down because it’s cheaper than paying for links or advertising. but dont quote me on that….
    ❤stylish t hought. i ❤creative commons. it’s an incredible resource
    ❤instant vintage.. taking your own photos is good for your soul. :)
    ❤tim, i don’t think there is any problems you might run into in regards to copy right, though a lot of stores don’t like photos. you’ll still have to run it though the powers that be to get photos.

  12. Excellent and much needed post! Thanks for the resources.

    I’m appalled at how many bloggers still use photos without credits or links!

  13. Sandra says:

    @Tim – usually retail images from online stores are public domain.

  14. Patricia says:

    I use images from other webpages but never claim they are my own and always source them back to the original creators, I have found that taking credit for other people’s work infringes copyright law but recognising their intellectual ownership is indicating you admit the images are not yours and people can go to the main source.

  15. MJ says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! I’m a brand new blogger so this information is incredibly helpful and very welcome :) .

    Thanks again,
    MJ

  16. Sonja says:

    Fantastic article with lots of great info here! Knowing what photos can be used definitely gets confusing. I usually have a hard time deciphering the legalspeak in the licenses so thanks for the translation. Does a blog with ads on it count as “for commercial use”?

    Wikimedia Commons also has some beautiful photos that can be used: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page. Just check each image for what kind of license or lack of license it has. BTW, LOVE your disclaimer!

  17. Winnie says:

    This was so useful thank you! It is definitely much trickier to work out where and when you can use photos from certain sites. Linking is definitely the way to go if you’re not sure…

  18. lisa says:

    Great post with a lot of useful info! I have to admit, in my early blogging days I was pretty haphazard with photo credits, but I’ve been a lot better with links back to the source websites and photo credits since.

  19. ObsessionO says:

    This is a great article. Good read. I really enjoyed it.

  20. Jennine, in regards to your question about how relevant copyright laws will be in the future:

    Typically the main purpose of the law is to protect the work financially, to prevent others from making money off of one’s intellectual property. For bloggers, it doesn’t seem that our intent in using images is financial– yes, we may make money off our blogs, but not on the use of the images. We are not printing them, distributing them, or selling them– most of us are using them for social commentary. There are provisions that protect that (along with educational use, parody, etc.). Any single image makes up 1/100th of the whole content of the blog, if not significantly less.

    In the future, it wouldn’t surprise me to see that if a blogger were taken to court over their use of an image, especially one that gave credit to the original creator, that a small blogger may not be penalized. It’s a tricky, TRICKY situation, one where the outcome could easily bounce both ways.

    • Nik says:

      Dear Ashe,

      I agree with a lot of what you stated. The strength of copyright law really depends on whether a person decides to sue for infringement at all, or do nothing. It’s all on a case by case basis. Copyright law does protect the owner’s ability to make money but it was really meant to encourage creativity.

      While we bloggers don’t directly use the pics for commercial purposes, someone could argue that pics indirectly serve a commercial purpose by making the blog more attractive to readers and driving traffic. Technically by posting the pic on a blog, the blogger is distributing and I think displaying the photo, which are rights reserved to the copyright owner. However, you’re correct that there are protections under Fair Use for bloggers, but we can’t completely hang our hats on that.

      I agree with you that a blogger could be hauled into court in the near future. If the RIAA sued Grandmothers, children and dead people over music copyright infringement, someone might sue a blogger too.
      .-= Nik´s last blog ..Shopping at GW Boutique =-.

  21. Jenna says:

    Great post and right on time. I found this blog, http://www.photoattorney.com, which also answers a lot of questions about photo copyrights.

  22. starfashion says:

    oooh, this is great! I was just having this conversation with my blog partner. Thanks for the info!!

  23. Jennine says:

    ❤ patricia…yes, and plus you can always tell if soemone is using someone else’s work
    ❤ sandra…really? i didn’t know that…sweet
    ❤ sonja…thanks..now i’m goign to be gone for a while
    ❤ ashe.. i’ve heard that too… though i’m wondering where you can draw the line between social commentary and just plain stealing images. it certaily can be argued either way…
    ❤ jenna…what an interesting blog….

  24. Patricia says:

    This is truly a great post Jennine :)

  25. pr says:

    this was a great read. and i was worned myself to name the source, in other words to credit the photographer. and i did.

    what i mind is this: i think bloggers should be stronger. blog is independed media. we should say freely what we think, so in that order i think everyone should know what site is the one who asks and then sells.
    also, if we keep quiet, we will not grow.

  26. MsUnreliable says:

    Fantastic post! I recently asked a great photographer on Flickr if I was ok to feature her photos and she was so thankful that I asked! I had fallen into the trap that so long as I referenced the source of the image I was ok, but I’ll definitely be a little more careful from now on.

    If some companies want to charge for their photos, I simply won’t blog about them. I’m not getting paid to market their work, so why should I be out of pocket to spread the word about their product?

  27. HH says:

    What is this well known fashion site that charges? Could you tell us so we can avoid using their images?

    Great tips, by the way. Still, perhaps the biggest problem is runway images. Most bloggers probably get them from Style.com or WWD which strictly speaking probably isn’t legal, but often they’re necessary for posts and you can’t always get them direct from the designers’ PR people.

    It seems unlikely that a small-scale blogger would be dragged through the courts for image use (most likely they’d just receive a threatening letter/email from lawyers, telling them to remove the images), but I guess the risk is always there.

    Personally I always tread carefully: my blog is totally non-commercial, and I always post the link to where the image came from. Also, I think about each image case-by-case. For example, I reckon Style.com are more likely to be angry if you lift an exclusive image or photo shoot from their site than if you use a runway picture which is not only featured on their site and which isn’t something they’ve invested time and effort into producing themselves.

    It’s also interesting if, say, blog x has lifted an image from, say, WWD, then blog y lifts the image from blog x, attributing blog x as the source.. where would that leave blog y in terms of liabilities?

  28. As a fashion photographer and blogger that’s trying to make a living. It does become more than troublesome when people assume they have a right to the photos you’ve taken. Some designers and show coordinators even promise the models photos from the photographers attending without so much as consulting with us. An image with your likeness in it is NOT an implication that you own usage rights. Arrange it with the photographer.

    Sadly it becomes so hollow of value that the last fashion show I attended I was considering not taking photos. So I took the not-so-pretty direction of plastering a big watermark on the photos advertising the website I run to network fashion talent locally. If a photo is digitally purchased it becomes available without the watermark. There are three digital sizes available – the smallest is plenty large enough for blogging, personal photos on Myspace/Facebook/etc.

    I take photos for my website and others. However I find my photos on lots of social network platforms from people that have never contacted me. They latch onto the freely accessible and don’t look back – which is something I could report but I have to also look at publicity. Some photos on Flickr have been picked up for publication by sites that have contacted me and offered appropriate attribution since that is how my photos are licensed through Creative Commons.

    Flyers for events becomes a different matter since most promoters would rather you PLEASE take their flyer and post it ANYWHERE.

  29. Viktoria says:

    Thanks for this information!
    I have another question: What about press releases? I have a model-blog and there are several pictures on the net (i mostly even only need polaroids, so there is no real photographer that sells the picture) but I am really afraid to use them. A lot of modelagencies send news out with this polas- now it was my question if i could use them? In my country modelagencies aren’t used (yet) to be asked by bloggers to use a picture…and they hardly answer this questions… its quite frustrating :( On the other hand I always see at the fashionspot people posting pictures from others sites… its quite the same what i would do it and of course mentioning the agency…..

  30. Wow… thank you for this. Up until now, I have only done a couple of blogs using high-profile images, and they have always been credditted, and I’ve always footnoted that I will remove them in case of issues with it, but it seems that’s not enough… I’ll go link them up now, instead!

    One place that’s great for images is deviantArt – http://www.deviantart.com. They make all artists state the law regarding their images beneath them, and if nothing is mentioned, you’re free to use them! As most artists there are amateur, they like it if you comment with a link, but otherwise you’re good to go!

    (: xxx

  31. Vagabondnyc says:

    Just so everyone knows, we at VagaBondnyc.com love when people blog about our items and editorials and appreciate reading what kind of stance bloggers take with our products, it helps out our future buys immensely.

    FEEL FREE to USE ANY & ALL IMAGES!!!

    XoXo

  32. Eric says:

    Hey thanks for this post….still is helping people 10 months after you published it.

    I found the flickr info very useful and am looking to employ it on my site. Peace.

  33. Alissa says:

    What a great post for someone just starting a blog! I had many questions about this. Thank you!
    .-= Alissa´s last blog ..The Perfect White Shirt! =-.

  34. chaitanya says:

    Nice post..

    I always check twice to credit the photographer if I am not using stock images from istockimages. Even Creative Commons seems to be a very good option..

    Thanks for the info..very useful

  35. maria says:

    At Wire image you can register for a personal viewing account. A free account lets view the images but with a nasty watermark on them and then you can subscribe to their “basic” account which is $10 a month to view the pictures without a watermark.

    It also says if you’re interested in licensing imagery for print, website, or broadcast, to call their 1-800 # to get a business account.

    I just want the images for my fashion blog, do you think if a subscribed to their $10 a month account i would be able to use their images on my blog?

    Thanks.

  36. Michele Gates says:

    Hi Jennine,
    Thank you for this article. I wasn’t aware of this before with my blogging and wished StyleW**ld would have shared it with me without being a bit aggressive. I appreciate that you’re helping us bloggers!
    -Michele

  37. Le Petít says:

    This article & responses have been very helpful!

    I’m wondering about online shopping images. At some stores, they only offer items in their online store, so is using their images to offer a critique and link to their site copyright infringement? I’ve been wondering about this since I started blogging, but no one has been able to give me a clear answer.

    Thanks to anyone who can help!

  38. Jasna says:

    Wow, a big thank you to you for choosing the topic of this post. It was really interesting, I had no idea about any of this. and it has helped me alot with regards to my posts.
    I love reading all your topics as I always learn something new and IFB has helped me with my blog in so many ways, thank you : )

  39. liannebianca says:

    this is really interesting and useful!!
    we have defiantly learned for our blog.
    .-= liannebianca´s last blog ..Past through the smokey black =-.

  40. Nickie Frye says:

    Yikes! I’m a brand new blogger & this is a little overwhelming. I’ve been siting all the photos w/ a link to the original site. It seems like that ought to be enough. I mean, when you quote someone in a book or something you site the source & move on. Bibliographies are pretty standardized. I’m not sure why it’s so different w/ images.
    .-= Nickie Frye´s last blog ..Hog Riding =-.

  41. Termid says:

    Wow! Really helping article…
    I just found your article, and even it is quite old, but it is timeless…Thanks a lot..

  42. Thanks for posting this information I have been using my own photos and istock images for my website but if I have an active blog this would be a big issue, you want your posts to look attractive but you’re not going to want to pay for an image for evey post. I think that bloggers should be allowed to use images.

  43. Stock Images says:

    Many webmasters are too worried about the copy right images.

    These are great resources and I am sure many people are going to use it.

  44. This helped a lot thanks because I just sarted blogging and I lack eye catfish images

  45. i have pinched afew in my time, i alwats thought you could ave what you want if it were on the web, silly me

  46. yeah selecting photos can be an uphill task ……i didnt know about this copyright photo thing until a few days..now i have started taking care :-)

  47. I am impressed, I must say. Really seldom do I discovered a blog thats both informative and entertaining,
    and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your opinion is outstanding; the matter is something
    that not enough people are talking intelligently about. I’m very happy that I stumbled across this in my
    search for something relating to this.

  48. Brian says:

    Hi Jennine! Great article, thanks for sharing. I think, sharing pictures is something most people do without asking for permittance and without being aware of the consequences. Keep up the good work!

    Plumbers London

  49. cuticle care says:

    Using Flickr images with creative commons license is the best option i think..

  50. Phtot Albums says:

    Nice article, I do not believe may people are aware of the consequences. Thanks for sharing!

  51. hdorigin says:

    Great article. I’m trying a find a great photo for my website http://www.discountfashiondesigner. If you are looking for a great discount up to 80% off retail fashion designer brands.

  52. Dallaslifeblog says:

    Thanks a lot for this information. I’ll make sure to take your advice as I’m building a new blog about moving to Dallas after over 15 years of living in Europe at http://www.dallaslifeblog.com. Please keep posting new information for us beginners!

  53. Hi Jennine,
    Thanks for explaining the “Creative Commons” part. I never really understood it well.

    Regards.

  54. dillysan says:

    well i always take pics when im out to use on my blog, random things and objects which i dont think i need later come in handy if i take to many ill upload some free for people to use as i no how hard it is to get pics .

    http://dillysano-mymakemoneydiary.blogspot.co.uk/p/creative-oomons-license-free-pictures.html

  55. James says:

    This is very informative. But the problem with Public Domain and Creative Commons, is every-time i search those sites, you read the fine print and there is still a disclaimer on most, warning that the photo could still be copyrighted. So even on those sites, there is still 100% guarantee. If you are blogging about a subject you can photograph yourself, then that is the only sure way. Own the photos you upload!

  56. Jarrod King says:

    So, in the case of non-commercial use, if you have ads on your blog and post the picture in your article, does that break the non-commercial rule?

  57. This article was very helpful to me. thanks..>!

  58. Samantha says:

    Thanks so much for this post! As a new blogger it’s something I’ve definitely been thinking about and this post is really helpful!

  59. I actually started a website to make it easy for bloggers. $5/month gets you unlimited blog photos. I called it http://www.mopho.to :)

  60. T.S.Hori says:

    Curious, if you post pics of clothing linking back to the online store where the clothing can be purchased (basically, free advertising for the clothing company), do you think this is also copyright infringement? Because that’s basically the essence of my blog so without the ability to do so would pretty much cancel my blog

  61. Thanks for sharing. I am thinking about using photos for my blog.

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