Blogger Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Photos You Don't Own on Your Blog
So what can you do?
1. If you've been using images without approval from the Internet on your blogs, know that you are probably violating copyright and could be sued for it.
Is the chance high? Probably not. Is it possible? I'm proof that it is. So you may want to consider going through your posts and delete pics that aren't yours.
2. Search for photos that are approved for use.
- Creative Commons-licensed pics -- You can search for photos that are free to use (with some restrictions) through Creative Commons. Usually this means you have to attribute the photo to the owner and link back to their site. (All of my posts now have pics that are under Creative Commons license. And there are actually really great photos available.) Meghan Ward did a fantastic post on the breakdown of Creative Commons licenses plus listed some other photo sources.)
- Wikimedia Commons offers free media files anyone can use. (Creative Commons license rules still apply if they attached to an image; however, many images on Wikimedia Commons are in the public domain and therefore copyright-free, meaning anyone can use and modify them for any purpose. You need to look at the description for each image and abide by those rules.
- Buy a subscription to a stock photo site -- This can be pricey up front but then you have access all year. There are also sites that you can pay per pic. (Here is one example of a subscription service. Thanks to Janice Hardy for that suggestion.)
- Use photos that are in the public domain; as above, Wikimedia Commons is a great place to start. Here's another list put together by the editors at Wikipedia.
3. Take your own photos and share the love.
Almost all of us have camera phones these days. Instead of just taking photos of our family, think of images you could use on posts. See a stop sign. Snap a picture and save it. Whatever. And if you want to give back and not just take, open up a Flickr account (here's mine) and list your own images as creative commons so that you can share the love. (You can set it up to where whatever pic you load from you camera is under that license.)
4. Use sites like Pinterest and Tumblr with caution.
I have read way too many terms of service over the last two months. And I'm not a lawyer, so the legalspeak can be confusing and I am NOT giving legal advice. BUT both Pinterest and Tumblr (and most other social sites) say that if you load something into their site (i.e. Pin It or Tumble it) YOU are claiming that YOU have a legal right to that picture. And if the owner of that photo comes after the company, you will be the responsible party. And Pinterest goes so far as to say if you REpin something, you're saying you have the right to that photo. Yes, if that's enforced, it would mean that 99% of people on Pinterest are doing something illegal. Will that ever come up? Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm leaning on the paranoid side now. I don't want to be the test case. And I don't want to pin something the owner of the photo wouldn't want pinned.
So pin your own photos, pin things from sites that have a Pin It button (but use the Pin It button with caution too. If that blogger is using copyrighted pics, you still don't have the right to pin without permission.) I pin book covers and movie posters because I figure that it's advertisement for said movies or books. But other stuff? All those pretty mancandy photos? I'm going to look but not touch. This would also apply sharing pics on Facebook. Same rules apply.
5. Assume that something is copyrighted until proven otherwise.
That's your safest bet. If you're not 100% sure it's okay to use, don't. This includes things like celebrity photos. Someone owns those. There are enough free pics out there that you don't need to risk violating someone's copyright.
6. Spread the word to your fellow bloggers.
It was KILLING me not to be able to go tell everyone about all of this because I didn't want anyone else to get into this kind of mess. So if you know someone who is using photos in the wrong way, let them know. I wish someone had told me.
So I know many of you are probably thinking -- she's being paranoid or that the likelihood of this ever happening to you is slim. Well, maybe. But it happened to me. And now that I know better, I'm going to do better (from the Maya Angelou quote Oprah always used.) And yes, it does kill me a little bit that I can't go on posting boyfriends of the week and mancandy, but instead I'll just post links to it so you can see it elsewhere. :)
So lesson learned: protect yourself and respect the rights of other artists.
*This post is not intended as legal advice. God knows I have no background in law. This is just my experience and what I learned working these past few weeks with people who are experts at copyright.
So what are your thoughts? Anyone surprised by this? Anyone have any other recommendations on where to find approved photos?
Roni Loren - Romance Author
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