How to Legally Use the Photos You Find Online

Vintage white iron push bar with veil draped on handle and flower bouquet on bottom tier in garden

A good photo is worth its weight in gold, conveying nuances in color, composition, and subject matter that paragraphs of prose can’t compete with. So it’s no wonder that you’re constantly on the lookout for the perfect visual addition to that blog piece, sales page, or facebook post you’re about to upload.

But wait… before you hit the “publish” button, have you checked to make sure you’re not violating someone’s copyright?!

Using a photograph without getting the proper permissions and without giving attribution is the equivalent of posting someone else’s writing or art and claiming it as your own work.

The non-photographer's guide to photography copyrights:

Don’t be a thief! It compromises your professionalism and can result in really bad juju involving lawyers and money paid in damages. Let’s just not go there.

Here are some tips to help you understand copyright, what do if someone infringes on your rights, and how to avoid getting on someone else’s $#*! list:

A review of what copyright is and isn’t.

Basically, once you’ve written that thing, drawn it out on paper, or gotten it into your camera (whatever your gig is)… that content is yours, even if you don’t put the little © on it. So rest assured that whatever your big idea is… blog posts, freebies, courses, photos, graphics, website designs, whatever… it’s yours as soon as it comes out of your head into tangible form. 

(By the way, a copyright is not the same thing as a trademark… check out this post on Trademark vs Copyright Q&A if you’re not clear on the differences.)

Of course, the "once it's made, it's copyrighted rule" applies to everyone else too.

What to do so YOU don’t violate someone's copyright (aka committing copyright infringement)

Copyright works in our favor when we have something we want to protect, but what about if we find something super cool and want to share it?!

The most important thing to remember is that the copyright holder gets to make the rules about whether people are allowed to reproduce their work or not.

First you need to track down the original owner of the image – don’t just assume the website you found it on actually owns it! Google search, an aggregate website, or someone who just happily shares away without giving credit, so make you’ve actually found the original creator’s website. (A reverse image search can help with this.)

Then, check out the website's Terms and Conditions. Your answer miiiiiight be answered in there. Many times a photographer or artist will say you can share with their blessing – as long as you credit them and link back to the original website.

If you’re browsing a stock image site like Unsplash or Pexels, there should be a license you can download that grants you free use of the image. This is usually called a Creative Commons License or CC0.

When in doubt...

Ask for permission. For example, if you want to repost someone’s Instagram image, message them about it! Chances are good they’ll be flattered and say yes, and then you’ve covered your heinie in case they come after you later.

This also applies if a website’s Terms and Conditions don’t address copyright or are unclear. This is NOT a case where you should do what you want and then ask for permission later, capiche?

Be a good Internet citizen

I know it can be time consuming to follow these steps, and it’s very tempting to just hit the “share” button without going through these steps. Put yourself in their place for a minute though. How would you feel if someone shared your content without so much as a by-your-leave?

Probably not so good, right? Follow the Golden Rule here and treat other content creators as you’d want to be treated!

Dealing with someone who reposted your content without permission? You’ll want to check out this article on what to do when someone shares without permission!

P.S. All of this got you thinking about how you need your own Terms & Conditions? I got you, boo, just click here. 

No, you can't use that photo on google. Find out how to use photos you find online, legally!

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