Q: Can I take pictures from other sites or Google Images and use them on my blog? What other options do I have?
With any blog or website, visuals are important in giving readers a good experience. Including an interesting image or graphic can do a lot to punch up your posts, whereas visitors are more likely to leave if all they see is a wall of text.
But we’re not all professional photographers, and finding appropriate images to include can often be a difficult and time-consuming process. It might be tempting to simply search Google Images, find something you like, and upload it to your blog. Even though this is quick and easy, it can get you into serious legal trouble.
In general, all images are the property of the person who made them and you may not use them without explicit permission. Copyright is created at the moment a photo is taken, and there doesn’t need to be an “all rights reserved” phrase present for it to be in effect.
Others might claim to be using the images under the conditions of “fair use,” as outlined in US copyright law. But no matter what your reasons might be for using an image, it is still an unwise decision if you do not have permission. You can be sued, taken to court and found liable for thousands of dollars worth of damages. Fair use is certainly a possible defense, but the required legal representation will cost you a lot of money. Even then there is no guarantee the courts will agree with you.
This might seem a little extreme, as the chances of someone finding your blog specifically and then deciding to pursue legal action is not too great, but this is definitely a case of “better safe than sorry.” Dealing with a lawsuit is stressful and expensive, and bigger companies have legal teams that specialize in defending intellectual property at all costs.
Instead of taking the risk, you can contact the webmaster of the site and ask whether he or she will allow you to use an image on your blog. Smaller sites will sometimes give permission as long as you credit them as the source.
Finding Free Images You Can Use on Your Blog
In addition, there are several places online where you can find large collections of images you can use for free without worrying about getting sued for copyright infringement.
Creative Commons is an alternative to copyright, a model in which the creator chooses to retain ownership of their images while allowing others to use, share, and even alter them in creative ways.
Be aware that Creative Commons doesn’t mean “take and do whatever you please,” as there are six basic licenses which differ in the type of attribution required as well as whether you are allowed to create derivative works or use them for commercial purposes. (Even a personal blog with ads on it could be interpreted as commercial.)
There are also a number of large stock photo libraries, such as stock.xchng, that allow you to download and use images for free. They sometimes require attribution or notification of the creator, so be sure to study the usage options. If you would like images of a more professional nature, you also find cheap royalty-images images from its partner site, istockphoto.com, included in the search results. Another good database of free stock photos is morgueFile
Two other options are to track down public domain images (expired or ineligible for copyright) or grab a camera and take them yourself!
In summary: Copyright is automatic when image is created. Never use an image you find online unless you have explicit permission.
Good places to look for quality, legal-to-use images:
iStockphoto.com (royalty-free images)
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this post, based on my personal experience, should be used solely for informational purposes. Always seek the advice of a legal professional if you have intellectual property issues or questions.