Before You Publish…


Chris The Story Reading Ape posted a link the other day that got me thinking. It was about a blogger – a cautionary tale, really. She had been using images from the internet to illustrate her blog posts, but had been unaware that she didn’t have permission to use those images. When a photographer called her out for using one of his images without permission, she found herself liable for court costs and a usage fee, money she didn’t have to spend.

Quite a few years ago, I worked in advertising, and one of my roles was as media buyer for a large agency. That meant I had to find images for creative teams and then, if they wanted to use them in an ad, I had to negotiate a usage fee for the image based on who was using it, where it would be seen, for how long, at what size and a few other variables. (I also had to do the same thing for any models we used in photo shoots – a whole other set of conditions).

This was valuable experience to have when it came to setting up my own blog, and the reason that I use my own photography 99.9% of the time. It also came in handy when working with a designer to create my own book covers. The sword artwork on Oak and Mist is my own illustration, while the tree, strap detail and leaf icon are purchased images. My upcoming book, No Quarter, once again features the sword image, but the necklace is a stock image. I had to purchase not only the right to use the image, but an extended commercial license which allows me to use it on a book cover for up to 500,000 copies (and if I even get close to selling that many, I’ll be thrilled! :-))

Front Cover Image

If this sounds expensive, it’s not – I think I spent less than Β£25 on the necklace image and extended license, a lot less than any court case or fees I could run into if I’d used the image without getting the correct permission. There are a lot of online stock photography sites offering free images, credit bundles or subscriptions, which you can use to download images as required. I wrote a post about this previously, discussing the different type of images available for use, but my recommendation was to always, always read the fine print.

When I visit blogs and see images being used that are obviously stock images, I do wonder whether they have permission to be used. Of course, the blogger in question could have commissioned the artwork or photography themselves, bought the license to use them or even got them from a free site, but, as many of the images are not credited, I can’t be sure.

So I thought I’d write this post, just in case. I’m certainly no expert, so please don’t get shouty (though feel free to let me know if I’m barking up the wrong tree) πŸ™‚ Nor is this legal advice – simply what I’ve learned through my own experience. However, when posting images on your blog, proceed with caution. If you haven’t taken the image yourself or have permission to use it, then don’t.






50 thoughts on “Before You Publish…

    • Yes, I had a moment of stress when I was about to publish the post and went back through my media library, just to be sure – it’s very easy to do and the lines are quite blurred, especially with all the gifs and memes that are shared daily.

  1. This is the second post I see on the subject this week and you are so right to emphasise the importance of it.
    When i can’t find what I’m after in my own photographs, I usually head over to Flickr where I search for images under the Creative Commons license. As long as you read the simple rules and respect them by giving credit, you have a wide range of wonderful photos to chose from.

  2. This is why I have no images on my blog. I cant see the pictures I’d potentially be taking from the web, and probably wouldn’t be totally sure if it’s legal to use them. And I don’t take my own pictures, obviously. But sometimes, I wish it were easier to come by free captioned images in public domain. I feel like having pictures on a blog really helps if you want to get more people interested in what you’re talking about.

    • That’s a very interesting point you make, Eilis – certainly one I hadn’t considered. When I put in search terms for an image I can then look through everything that comes up – when you don’t have that option it would be helpful, as you say, for each image to be captioned so you know what you’re selecting. Perhaps this is an initiative that should be pushed for on sites like Creative Commons or similar. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Good advice to follow. I read the other blog about using photos, which caused the legal problem. Now, I only use my own, taken with my own camera. Would you recommend deleting every picture I’ve used on my blog posts, before hearing of this? Also, now I’m paranoid about using Pinterest…would it be best to just delete it all and never use it again? Thanks for any advice!

    • I think the blogger who was sued did end up removing all the images from her previous posts too, just to be safe. Certainly if your posts can be accessed and looked at, the image would be considered to still be in use – however, that’s just my opinion based on my work background. The thing with static media like posters or magazine ads is that they have a shelf life for the most part – usually they get recycled or thrown out after a while. Whereas digital blog posts remain active and can be accessed by new users at any time. I would err on the side of caution and remove any images you don’t have permission to use from your blog. (again, don’t quote me in court on this!)
      As for Pinterest, it’s interesting that apparently even re-pinning someone else’s image with credit can be seen as going against terms of fair use, which kind of negates the whole purpose of the site. I rarely go on there, to be honest – I do have an account but once again it’s my own images only. I would speak to them directly if you are concerned. Hope that helps a little πŸ™‚

      • Thank you for your insight on this. I think I may just go delete those pictures on my blog…they’re really old posts anyway. Pinterest….not sure yet…wonder how they stay in business if everyone is pinning willy-nilly anything they see on other boards, or google..or anywhere …I’ll have to see if they respond to this question. Thanks again!

      • No worries at all, you’re very welcome. And yes, I do think the Pinterest issue is a strange one – after all, isn’t the site about sharing ideas through images? I’d be interested to hear what they have to say.

  4. Thanks for reminding us all of this important issue! I teach a college writing class, and when we discuss ethics we get into the misconception that everything on the Internet is free to use. Most of my students are surprised by this. I’ve been careful to use only images I’ve taken myself (or created in an image processing program).

    • Thanks Celia – I think it is a surprise to many people. It’s become the norm to share images and memes on social media which perpetuates the idea that it’s fine to do so with any image found online. But it’s someone’s artwork, same as if someone used a passage from your book or poem without credit or permission. It’s great that you’re discussing it in class – I remember learning about it in university too, but it wasn’t until I worked in advertising that I really got to learn a lot about the ins and outs of it all. I think the industry has changed again in the intervening years, so I’m always very careful to check things (I had a panicked look through my Media Library before I posted this blog, just in case :-))

  5. I buy mine from fotalia, but I really must go and check all my old posts, because initially I did not understand about permissions. If I cant buy what Im looking for, I see if I can get it from Wikimedia, usng the appropriate accreditation. Im trying to improve my photography skills so that I can use more of my own images. Its a thorny issue, though, isnt it?

    • It is a tough one, especially when social media encourages us to share images over and over. I tend to err on the side of caution, that’s for sure. I do believe that most people who fall foul of this do so in complete innocence, just like the blogger who was sued. It doesn’t change their liability though, unfortunately. And I honestly am amazed by the reaction to this post – it was just something I’d been thinking about today. Now I’d better go and double check everything I’ve done in case I get called out! πŸ™‚

  6. Excellent advice, Helen. Thanks for sharing. I’m always wary of using stock images. If I’m doing a fun blog post I might use deviantart, but I always give credit to where the image came from πŸ˜€

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  8. very useful Helen – i can be a mind field Like You I prefer my own images if I can possibly and with the books my designer made sure any element he used from another source was licences and paid for

    • Yes, it really can be tricky. Even with my own experience I still have to check things loads of times to make sure I’m following the correct procedures. And then when I wrote this post I checked everything again πŸ™‚ Didn’t expect it to have quite the amount of response that it did!

  9. I’ve used my own images (and a friend’s with permission) for the past year. I don’t know what I’ll do when I don’t have any of my own anytime in future. Using pictures off the internet is so dicey now..

  10. Great advice, Helen. As new bloggers I think we go slightly mad with using images we should not be using. I always try and use my own now, even if it means repeating them. Where I do use images from the web I also go for “Free” ones and then give the appropriate accreditation. It’s a bit of a mine field but I’d know how I would feel if I saw one of my own photos being used where I’d not given permission or there is no credit to me that it is mine. I highly recommend that everyone watermarks their own photos as well.

    • Yes, that’s a good point, Hugh – we need to protect our own images against mis-use. And I know I would be upset to see any of my work, whether photography or writing, being used elsewhere without my permission. I think because Facebook etc makes it so easy for us to share images with others, that, if you don’t know about copyright, it’s easy to assume that it’s all right to use all images that way.

  11. Always an important and relevant post, Helen, for seasoned and new bloggers alike. I read before that there is implied permission to use Clipart (which sometimes offers stock images) as long you have a valid MS Office license, and although Powerpoint 2013 no longer offers Clipart images, earlier versions do. I also use Getty Images (from their royalty-free category especially for non-commercial bloggers) as they’re so simple to use – it’s a simple copy-and-paste of code to embed their pics in a blog post, and the Getty credit appears automatically without the need for any messy captioning. Dead handy.

    • This is what I love about the response to this post, that bloggers such as yourself are sharing their image sources – it’s great for me to know, as I’ve been out of the ad industry for a few years and so am not familiar with all the sites any more (though I used Getty quite a lot). Thanks for sharing, Tara πŸ™‚

  12. Well this is a bit scary! I use unsplash and sometimes pay for them at fotalia – otherwise occasionally I get em from creative commons. I am pretty sure all those places are copyright free…. I think…. now a bit nervous…. and if I get one from somewhere else – I try to credit them – like I used a NASA one and one from wiki recently and I think I credited them, or at least I hope i did…. runs off to check! Possibly didnt for the festival one today though… oh god. :*(

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