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Bloggers Beware: You Can Get Sued for Using Pics on Your Blog

21 July 2012

From author Roni Loren:

Like most of you, I’m a casual blogger and learned my way into blogging by watching others. And one of the things I learned early on was that a post with a photo always looked nicer than one with just text. So I looked at what other people were doing for pictures. And mostly it seemed that everyone was grabbing pics from Google Images and pasting them on their sites. Sometimes with attribution, most of the time without.

. . . .

Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a takedown notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic. The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn’t going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn’t afford. I’m not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn’t have for a use of a photo I didn’t need.

Link to the rest at Roni Loren and thanks to Kat for the tip.

Fair use covers pulling excerpts from works other people have written. Fair use also covers photographs. The problem is that most people don’t want an excerpt from a photo, they want the entire photo.

Google’s image search makes it pretty simple for a photographer to search the web for places where his/her photos have been used.

One of the ways to use photos that PG has blogged previously about is to search for Creative Commons images.

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Copyright/Intellectual Property

26 Comments to “Bloggers Beware: You Can Get Sued for Using Pics on Your Blog”

  1. How about Youtube videos? Youtube definitely encourages sharing with easy tools to link, embed, etc. Because of that, I always assumed they were fair game. Any words of wisdom there, PG?

    • Typically, you’re embedding a link to a YouTube video, not making a separate copy of it on your blog like you would do with a photo. YouTube encourages this by providing embedding code. I haven’t read YouTube’s terms of use, but I would guess they require anyone uploading a YouTube video to allow it to be used far and wide.

      The photo situation usually begins with someone copying the photo from the photographer’s website.

  2. So does that mean that if you crop a photo it’s fair use?

    • I think you would need to remove a substantial portion of the original photo to make a fair use argument. For example, taking an image of a single person out of a group photo of 8-10 people.

  3. This is an issue with Pinterest now, too.
    As both a writer and photographer I think that once it goes up on the internet, there’s nothing I can do about it. For my own photos, I create a file name hard to link with the image so if someone is searching for a closeup of a geranium, they’re not going to find it by what I titled it. I watermark but I know I can remove a watermark with Photoshop so assume someone else intent on doing so can as well. If it’s valuable or meaningful to you, don’t put it on the internet.

  4. Rie Sheridan Rose

    That’s why I take photos when I want to use them on my blog. I agree that photos enhance an entry, but if you use your own photos, you are safer. (Just make sure to tell people in them they will be on the internet…especially if not family members.)

  5. You have to be careful with Creative Commons, too. A lot of the Creative Commons licenses specify that the works are only free for non-commercial purposes. If you use these images on a blog that is actually your author blog (= marketing tool), maybe even connected to a paypal-webshop or suchlike, it will most likely bee classified as a commercial site/blog.

    You have to keep this in mind. Sometimes it is best just to quickly snap your own pictures with one of the many digital devices around. That is how I do it.

  6. After a photo has been copied and pinned and repinned and spread out all over the place, how do I even find the originator to ask permission? And if someone contacts me and tries to get money from me, what kind of proof do I need to get that they truly are the originator and not just some shakedown artist? And what about celebrity photos? It’s not like Robert Downey, Jr. wanders through midwestern suburbs on a daily basis so I can take my own photo.

    • If you can’t find the person or company who can grant you permission to use the picture, the only safe thing to do is not use it. That renders your second question moot. Takedown notices are issued under penalty of perjury, which ought to deter bogus ones, but I don’t know how widespread a problem that is (or whether it’s a problem at all).

      • There’s a Firefox and Chrome addon called ImageExchange by PicScout. When you have it on, you can right-click on the the image and often it will give you who the orginal owner of the image with a link to the image source. If you can’t find the author to ask for permission or to purchase the correct license to use the image, then it’s best to avoid that image and avoid the risk of being sued.

        Another thing to note – Google has a reverse image tool at images.google.com, which makes it easier for photographers to find copyright infringements and take appropriate action. I use it to find my infringers all the time.

    • Kat,
      if it is not in the metadata of the image, and you cannot find out who the copyright holder is, then look for another picture.
      There is a lot of interchangable material out there, so it is really not worth the hassle.

      Every photograph is copyrighted by someone somehow. If they decide to give it into public domain than that is their decision to make. But even if someone does not care about how his images are used today (or is not aware of the fact that people are using his images), it does not mean that he will not care (or be aware of it) tomorrow. And the problem then will be yours.

      Point is, as a photographer myself, I know how many of us get pretty worked up about their material being used and reused online. It has always been a hassle to track the images down but it is getting increasingly easy with some new software tools. Even if the image has been modified, cropped, metadate overwritten etc. So I expect more trouble on the horizon for people using images without licensing them first.

      If you find something that is free, just recheck and be safe.
      🙂

    • Celebrity Photo’s tend to be taken or the rights to are owned by big agencies with deep pockets. Unless you’ve paid for a licence to use your celebrity photograph from somewhere like wireimage I wouldn’t use it.

    • Check out Wikipedia Commons. They have millions of photos, many of celebrities, and they post on their main site that you can use those photos freely.

      Here’s the link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

      You can also google creative commons pictures for more options.

      There are also sites that sell pictures for very little.

      I’m really careful with my site, but this article is a scary warning to keep doing that! And I stay away from Google image search. Hard to know if you can use them or not.

    • Mr. International

      Wikipedia commons.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_Downey_Jr._2011_AA.jpg

      Otherwise, do as the news agencies do and use dreamstime (or morguefile.) you can search for items on Flickr and Google (adv. options page check commercial/commons only.)

  7. I always find it strange how some authors care so much about infringement of their copyright, screeching loudly about theft and then when you go to their website you’ll see them busily infringing some else’s copyright.

    • Yep. How many indie book trailers have you seen on YouTube with adverts plastered across the bottom of the video, meaning the music hasn’t been licensed?

      • Those ads do not necessarily mean that. There are groups whose “business model” is to accuse uploaders of using unauthorized music when in fact these groups do not represent the composer / rights holder, and when in fact the music is fully licensed. “But don’t worry,” they assure you, “just let us put ads on your work. We won’t sue you. Aren’t we nice?” I ran into this and was ultimately successful at fending them off, but it takes vigilance and time, which some people do not have in abundance. If they send out enough notices, some folks will not take action, and they will make some free advertising money off of other people’s works. If I weren’t so livid at the accusation, I might not have thought it worth the time to fight. We weren’t talking about a hugely popular video here.

        • I downloaded a piece of music from archive.org where everything is supposed to be PD. This past week some company, IODA, contacted Youtube who contacted me to say this music was licensed by them but heck, putting an ad under the book trailer was sufficient, so carry on, Barb. Is anyone selling this song from 1925? No.

          If I could figure a way to remove the vid, I would.

  8. What about linked images on a WordPress blog? You have the option to link to an image without actually copying it to your own servers, but the image still displays on your blog (as long as the image isn’t moved from its original location).

    • I would assume that’s still improper use. (Not a lawyer, though.)

      The thing that makes embedding YouTube videos okay, I would assume, is that by inviting you to embed the video, YouTube takes responsibility for the license.

      I admit I have done things where use an image and link back to the originating site — in cases where I am talking about the work in question and it won’t be mistaken for my own work.

      Generally, though, I have decided that I’m doing entirely my own photos and art in future — no clip art, no wikimedia commons — with the exception of two things:

      1.) If I discuss a book or movie, I’ll continue to put up a thumbnail of the cover or poster — preferably sourced from things like wikimedia. I don’t know if this is actually legal, but I haven’t heard of people getting in trouble for it.

      2.) I talk a lot about art and illustration from before 1922, and so I’ll use art from archive sources which do some reasonable check on copyright dates.

      I’ve discovered that images on Stock xchng and other such sites often disappear from the site later. When I see this, I assume that either that picture wasn’t uploaded by the artist, or the artist had second thoughts about giving it away.

      I also don’t like the restrictions on stock art that I pay for, so…

      I’m slowly getting rid of stock art (free or paid) from everything I’ve done. I didn’t use much in the first place, but that just makes it harder to find the instances where I have used it.

    • Those are generally considered very rude, because every time the image is viewed on your blog, it puts a strain on the picture’s true home. Depending on where that picture is located, and how popular your own blog is, you could tip some home-owned domain over their service provider’s data limit.

      (And there are people who, if they catch someone linking a picture like that, will replace the picture with an identically-named one at that place which is something disgusting (do not google goatse…) or is an image like, “BANDWIDTH THIEF RIGHT HERE.”)

      If you can’t host the picture yourself… don’t use it.

  9. Thanks for this post! I am constantly pulling stuff off the net..and I don’t have enough of my own photos to use…I think it should say something on the image–‘not for public use’ or something to that affect–I paid $50 for a giff of a wolf because I really wanted the image. Hmmm…

  10. This is why I have a subscription to clipart.com. Yes, it costs money, but it’s cheaper than getting sued, and I have the license to use these images on my website. Any images I use on my blog are either my own artwork or from this site (or I otherwise have permission to use them.)

    I’ve often wondered, though, why I bothered, since I know 99.995% of bloggers out there use anything they can find on the web, believing that all web photos are royalty free images.

    As writers, though, you’d think we’d be more aware of copyright infringement.

    • Excellent point, India.

      There are several large websites offering low-cost photos and artwork. Often one of the keys to keeping the cost low is to buy relatively small images. If you’re buying something for a printed book cover, you need a large, high-rez image. For a blog post, something smaller will do fine. Some of the sites even offer subscriptions. I’ve used iStockPhoto and Shutterstock before.

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