Photo Copyright Tips for Bloggers

horizontal photo strip

A few years ago, I wrote the post Photos you can use on your blog without breaking the law. Back in 2009, bloggers were being criticized for just taking images from other sites and using them. Here in 2012, bloggers are being criticized for just taking images from other sites and using them. Obviously some things never change even when everything changes.

Having great images is an important part of creating a successful fashion blog, and even if we're lacking in the photo skills department there are ways to get great photos without stepping on copyrighted toes. While finding sources becomes even more difficult with the proliferation of websites like Tumblr and Pinterest, there are ways for bloggers to keep a tight lid on photographic propriety.  Here are some ways you can blog on the photographic straight and narrow:

Take your own photos

The best way to prevent using unauthorized copyrighted material, is to make your own material. Back in my original post, I told an anecdote about  I was in design school, our teachers encouraged us to take our own photos because they thought designers who used stock photos created work that all looked the same. The same is true with bloggers. Believe it or not, it is very hard to create a blog with an original voice if all your photos are pulled from other blogs, reblogged, no matter how good the photos might be. Taking your own photos will help you create an aesthetic voice to your written word. If you're not good with the camera now? Take a class. Practice, you might find you love it.

Ask for press photos

If you're talking about a specific product or event, one smart way to get your hands on images is to contact the press office of the brand and request them. This would be a good way to build relationships with PRs as well as get the scoop with brands you are interested in writing about. Most press releases come with images these days, so if anything the brands who send these would be happy for you to post them. Also, if you want to talk about magazine editorial spreads, some magazines, Vogue, is one who sends out press releases when a new issue comes out.

editorial spread vogue

My favorite editorial spread from July's Vogue Magazine, just happened to be among the press photos available for posting. Of course the press release came with terms of use, such as, don't post more than three images and don't copy more than one hundred words. But it's still a great way to generate great content.

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

I have been using Creative Commons on Flickr for years. While to be honest, new and exciting images in the Creative Commons photo pool are getting harder and harder to come by, but the good news is, there are other resources. CreativeCommons.org has a wealth of different resources for photo, video, and even music. 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.

Be sure if you are using something under the Creative Commons license that the usage is in fact authorized. Also, if it doesn't have a Creative Commons license, assume it's not available for your usage without authorization.

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.  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. Here at IFB we've been using Shutterstock which requires a subscription, if your blog is a bit more abstract and it's worth it for you to have a resource of quality images, it might be worth getting. If your blog is about celebrity style, first you can get press photos pretty easily (they have a way of appearing in my inbox even though I've never posted one) but there are celebrity stock image sources that you can subscribe to.

Fair Use

One of the biggest excuses forces behind the proliferation of reblogging photos is the “Fair Use” doctrine. According to Wikipedia:

“…[Fair Use] permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test.”

We've written a post about Fair Use, in plain English it means you can use images without permission if it is for purposes of commentary (ie. I like that blue skirt), criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. This doctrine is murky however, and shouldn't be used as a free ride to take images all over the place. It also is only valid in the United States, our German readers have pointed out that no such thing exists in Germany, so check with your local laws to see if there is a similar clause. Ultimately, with Fair Use, the best way to stay out of trouble is to get permission, give credit, and if push comes to shove, if the copyright holder asks to take it down, take it down.

Give Credit

These days finding the source of an image can seem impossible. You found something off Pinterest, it links to Tumblr, that credits Weheart.it that was some how sourced to FFFFound!, and that was linked to a blog post from way back in 2010 that linked back to Tumblr. Sound familiar? You can run an image search in Google, by dragging and dropping an image to Google Image Search, and it will pull every time it was used. You'll still have to do a little digging to see what the oldest entry was, but it's a good way to verify where the original source is. After running a search, and you're not certain as to where the image came from, you can always give credit to the place where you found it, but specify that it's not the original source. But always, always, always give credit where it is due, even when you have permission to use.

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.



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8 Responses

  1. A Few Goody Gumdrops

    Question…how does this apply if you are writing about a pair of shoes from an affiliate and linking to that affiliate in your post to sell the shoes? Hard to sell the shoes without a photo. Many of us use photos from our affiliate sites. Do we need to credit the affiliate’s photo since we are in essence working with them?

    • Jennine Jacob

      Hi there Betsy,
      You know that is a good question. I will ask a few retailers and see what their thoughts are on the subject. My guess is that if there is an affiliate link (in some affiliate programs the image is attached) then you have permission to use the image, and are in fact encouraged to use the photos. But let me double check!

  2. Ayesha

    This is great, but how do you contact magazines for press release information and terms? It certainly isn’t easy to find on their sites.

    Thanks again for such an informative article!

  3. kristen

    Thanks for this article! You’re such a great help in all realms of blogging.

  4. Erika

    How do you get press releases? Would I have to contact the magazine or is there a site?

  5. SchoolPhotoProject

    Dear Mario, thank you for this interesting posting. We’d like to mention about http://www.SchoolPhotoProject.com. We are a totally copyright-free stock photo site that make good quality photos available for public in general — we’d love to have bloggers using our photos with a small credit in return. No need to open an account or login to access and download our HD photo files – which are as big as 4000 pixels in size. New free photos are uploaded daily. Thank you!

  6. Olyn - Tallahassee Photographer

    Thanks so much for the great information! I am a professional photographer and I have had the same image I created show up in several places over the last few years. Thank you for providing resources for people to get images the right way!