How to Use Photos Legally on Your Website or Blog
When you write online, you're not just a writer—you're also editor and graphic designer for your articles, and you will keep your reader engaged for longer if you give them images and videos to watch as well as your fascinating prose! However, if you want to avoid a costly law suit, you need to ensure you're using images and photos legally.
The Easy Solution
Where to Find Free Creative Commons Photos
In this article I'm going to explain how to properly choose and attribute photos so you can use them safely—but if you'd rather not have to deal with all that, there is an easier way. There are some websites which offer photos that ARE free to use without any strings attached. The popular ones are:
Simply find the photo you want, download it, and upload it to your site. If you are feeling generous, you can provide a link back to the site (just follow their instructions) BUT it's not legally required.
If you can't find suitable photos on those sites, Google "free photo sites" for more - but be careful! Some sites LOOK like free photo websites, but they're not.
Royalty-free Stock Photos
Royalty-free photos are NOT free! The old way of selling photos was to charge a fee for every use - so if you were printing 5,000 brochures, for instance, you'd pay a royalty for every single brochure. That's not practical for websites, so most photographs are now sold for an upfront fee instead of royalties. Such photos are called "royalty-free"- but you do have to pay that upfront fee if you want to use them, so they're not free.
Social Sharing Websites
It's not legal to use photos from Pinterest, Photobucket or other similar sites. Members there are often sharing photos they don't own! They may get away with it because they're just sharing, but when you put it on a website where you want to make money, it becomes commercial and the copyright owners may come after you. If you think you've found a free photo site, take a look at their terms & conditions or About pages and make sure they explicitly say the photos are legal to re-use commercially.
You can search on Google for images, but Google does NOT guarantee that the images are free to use. Their search is far from perfect and often brings up photos that aren't free at all! If you see a photo you like on Google Image Search, you must click "Visit Page" to look at the original site and check if the image is genuinely available for re-use.
Understanding a Photo's Copyrights
If you want to use a photo that's on any other website, it's not enough to link to the website you got it from. You have to be sure it's not under copyright - because if it is, you cannot use it legally and you could be sued for thousands of dollars if you do.
Copyright law is complex,but the basic rule for images is very simple:
ALL images and photos on ALL websites are copyright, UNLESS the website has a statement that says otherwise.
What If There's No Watermark?
Some people think they can use any photo, provided it's not watermarked. That's incorrect.
A watermark doesn't mean copyright. Watermarked images are samples of photos being offered for sale: it's a way for the photographer to protect the image until you've paid for it.
I'm sure you've heard of magazines paying thousands for an exclusive photo of a celebrity baby, and you know that other magazines would be sued if they published it - and yet you won't find a watermark or copyright symbol on any photo in the New York Times or Vogue, will you? Publications don't want marks spoiling the image, so it's the rule that a photo is automatically copyrighted with no need for a symbol. That's the way it has always worked in newspapers and magazines - and that tradition has transferred to the internet.
Repeat: ALL images and photos on ALL websites are copyright, UNLESS the website says otherwise
If a photo is available for you to use, there will always be a statement somewhere on the website saying so. It may be on the same page as the photo, or you may have to delve into the site's Terms & Conditions or About pages to find it. If you can't find anything, the images are copyright and you can't use them.
If the photos are marked "public domain", you can use them freely without saying where you got them - but most photos and images are released under some kind of license, which has conditions attached - the most common requirement being that you must provide a photo credit.
The Photographer, Not the Site
A photo credit is NOT about telling the reader where to find the photo. It's about acknowledging the photographer. So it's not enough to say you got the photo on Flickr or Wikimedia - that would be like someone quoting your Hub, then giving the credit to HubPages instead of you!
Crediting the Photographer
There is no single "right" way to provide a photo credit. One place you can't put it is in the caption - because the caption can't be a link. Since you're using their photo, you must give the photographer a backlink. As an online writer, you understand the value of backlinks, don't you?
This article is written mainly for members of HubPages, so here are the instructions for providing a photo credit on a Hub:
There are two possible places to put the link:
- by pasting the URL in the "Source" field in the photo capsule itself. Put the photographer's name in the "Name" field. You'll see an example in the first photo.
- if you have several photos by the same photographers, or if the licence requires you to include a lot of information, you can put the credit at the end of your Hub, and put "see Photo Credit" in the photo capsule. Ideally, you should link that to the Photo Credit capsule (see below for instructions) - but it's not essential.
It's always neater to use the photographer's name to create a proper hyperlink, instead of simply pasting the URL.
Wikimedia - Not Public Domain
Many people assume that images on Wikipedia and Wikimedia are public domain. Some are, but most are not - they're subject to licenses like any other site. Most are usable with attribution, but it's up to you to provide the credit required.
Wikimedia Commons is a popular source for newbie writers, because they think the images are fair game. They're not - you need to provide credit just as you'd do for any other site. Luckily, Wikimedia makes it easy by providing links you can click on and copy.
Find the photo you want, click on "more details", and you should see a list of links down the right-hand side of the photo.
Click on the "Use this file on the web" link to the right of the photo. In the box that comes up, the first line (Page URL) is the line that you paste into the Source URL. The third line (Attribution) is the one that you paste into the Name of Source. There's no need to add ANY of the other stuff about licences etc.
The Photo Credit Capsule
Some Creative Commons licences (and some photo websites) may require you to provide a lot of information, e.g. the type of licence, possibly a copyright notice, and sometimes a link to the website as well. The result looks cumbersome if you show it all in the photo capsule, and distracts from your caption.
The good news is that a separate Photo Credits section will fulfil all your obligations: there's nothing to say you must put source links in the photo capsules.
HubPages doesn't provide a special Photo Credits capsule. You can use a Text or Links capsule instead. Place it at the end of your Hub. If you have a lot of photos, you may get a warning about too many links grouped together - but don't worry, it's allowed if the links are citing sources or crediting photos.
Even in your Credits capsule, you don't have to repeat all the required information for every photo, if it's the same. For instance, if all your photos are from Flickr, you don't have to credit Flickr every time - just credit each photographer, then finish the capsule with "All photos from Flickr.com". Similarly, if all the photos are under the same licence, finish the capsule with "All photos provided under Creative Commons Licence 3.0" rather than stating it separately for each one.
Now all that's left is to refer your readers to the Credits capsule. That's easy - put "See Photo Credits below" in the Name field. If you're feeling clever, you can make that a link to the Photo Credits capsule itself!
There are some lovely pictures on free photo sites - but not if you're looking for something outside the mainstream. Whereas on Flickr, you'll find lots of quirky personal shots, and plenty of photographs by professionals too, on almost any subject you can think of. And Flickr photos are not only easy to use, it gives you a chance to interact with the photographers if you wish, and even get more publicity for your Hub or blog.
How to Find "Legal" Free Photos on Flickr
You can't use just any old picture on Flickr. Some photos are "All Rights Reserved" (which means you can't use them at all) and others have restrictions on their use. To find the photos you can use on HubPages or your blog/website, you need to do an Advanced Search:
- Open the Flickr.com website.
- Leave the search box empty and click on "Search"
- On the next page you should see "Advanced Search" under the "Search" button. Again, leave the search box blank and click on "Advanced Search". That will take you to the Advanced Search page.
Or, you can cheat and follow this link: http://www.flickr.com/search/advanced/?
All Rights Reserved?
Is the photo you want to use "All Rights Reserved"? If you really want it, don't give up. Message the photographer and ask their permission to use the photo. Explain how you're going to use it and offer to link to their website or page. You may be surprised how often they will say yes!
Now to do an Advanced Search:
- Enter a word or phrase to describe what you're looking for (in Ms Lizzy's case, probably "cats")
- Scroll all the way down and you'll see a section titled "Creative Commons". Tick "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" AND "Find content to use commercially".
Why commercial? Because if you're displaying ads on your Hub or blog, even if you're an amateur and just doing it for fun, it's still classed as commercial.
Now click the "Search" button and voila, you should have a host of photographs to browse through. To look at a photo full-size, click on it. To go back to the gallery, use the "back" button in your browser.
Flickr Tip #1
When you create the photo credit, link to the photographer's photostream (his/her main Flickr page), not the individual photo. That way, even if the photographer removes the photo from Flickr, you don't get a broken link.
How to Upload a Photo From Flickr
When you see a photo you like in the gallery, click on it and you'll go to the page where it's displayed full-size. Click the info button (a small i in a circle in the right sidebar) to double-check the licence. If it doesn't say "all rights reserved", you're good to go.
- Click on the three dots icon in the right sidebar and select "Download/All Sizes".
- Click on the size you want - don't worry if you're not sure, you'll get a chance to change your mind later.
Now you can open the HubPages photo capsule, and upload the photo. Don't forget to add a caption and a photo credit!
Flickr Tip #2
There is one other way to thank the photographer - but it's an extra, not a substitute for the link on your Hub, which is compulsory.
If you sign up for Flickr, you can leave a comment on the photo page, thanking the photographer and telling him/her where you've used it. I've had some lovely conversations with photographers as a result, and been offered more photographs not published on Flickr!
Another Option - Flickrstorm
There is another way to search for items on Flickr. It's a separate website called Flickrstorm.
All you have to do is click "advanced", enter your search term, select "for commercial use" in the drop-down box and click "search".
The advantage of Flickrstorm is that you can see a large version of the photos you like without leaving the gallery. Plus it remembers the photos you've looked at. When you find one you want to use, click the "open on Flickr" link and follow the usual instructions to upload the photo.
The downside is that it returns only a limited number of photos. I used it a lot at one time, but found that I was missing some great photos by not looking at the full search results available on Flickr itself.
If you're not technically minded, all this may sound fiddly at first - but as you get used to it, you'll find it gets faster and easier. Anyway, it's worth it to enrich your Hubs with some fabulous photos!
Note: If you have your own photos, bear in mind it's very likely they'll be stolen if you put them on HubPages. Consider putting them up for sale at a site like Dreamstime instead. You can always write a Hub or two to promote them.
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Thank you to the following photographers for the photos on this article, which are published under Creative Commons Licence 3.0:
- Recubejim for cat in loo
- Piez for cuddling cats
- Gattou/Lucie for the grey green-eyed cat
- Tambako for the black and white stalker
- Rodrigo Basuare for the tiger cat
All photos are from Flickr.com.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.