July 29, 2016

How to Avoid Image Copyright Infringement on Your Business Blog

If you’re ramping up content marketing activities, you’re probably blogging more, posting on social media, and looking for images to compliment all that new copy.

Naturally, you go to Google to find the perfect image. When you publish it, you even remember to link to the source in the caption. That’s all you have to do, right?

Not necessarily. If this describes how you find images for your site, you’ve probably infringed on copyrighted work without knowing. And it could cost you thousands!

Read on to learn about copyrights and how to find and correctly use digital images.

Why Should I Care About Copyright Infringement?

There are two main reasons you should care about using images correctly on your site and other online assets.

It’s the law. Copyrighted images are protected. The person who created the work (or who owns its copyright) decides how the image is used. If it’s not licensed to freely use and distribute for commercial purposes, you don’t have permission to use it. The law applies even if you didn’t mean to use it incorrectly, or are unaware of the law.

Penalties are costly. According to U.S. copyright law, the penalty for unlawfully using a copyrighted image is as high as $150,000. That can bankrupt a small business. Even penalties as low as $4,000 will disrupt your cash flow.

How Can I Avoid Copyright Infringement?

Copyright laws are just subjective enough that some cases get messy. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert on the law to protect yourself.

Here are four ways to obtain free, legal images:

Create your own. Snap photos or illustrate images yourself. When you create them, you own the copyright and are free to use the work as you like.

Hire someone. If photography and graphic design aren’t your thing, hire a professional to create images for you. Custom artwork can be pricey, so this option isn’t practical for most small businesses. But if you have the budget, go for it! Just make sure the work is original and the artist agrees the work is “made for hire” so you have the right to use it.

Purchase royalty-free stock images. There are many online sites—such as iStockPhoto and IcoMoon—with thousands of royalty-free photographs, illustrations, icons, and videos. “Royalty-free” means you pay a one-time license fee to use the work with a few restrictions. Costs range from a couple dollars to several hundred dollars per image.

Use Creative Commons (CC) licensed images. Search for Creative Commons Zero (CC0) and public domain marked images. Images marked as such are free to use, modify and distribute without attribution. Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licenses also let you freely use and distribute the images, but you must give proper attribution to the author. (Learn more about Creative Commons licenses.)

Where Can I Find Free Images?

There are many sites dedicated to curating free public domain and CC-licensed images. Here are six we recommend:

  • Unsplash: This site has a large collection of high-quality image collections to search from and download. You can also subscribe to get 10 new photos every 10 days sent to your inbox.
  • Stocksnap.io: Search hundreds of high-resolution images, including business themes. Tag your favorites to find them later, or sort the library based on number of views, downloads and more.
  • Pixabay: This site has the largest library in our list with over 660,000 free images, illustrations and videos. All assets are released under the CC0 license and can be used for commercial purposes.
  • Viintage: This site also offers thousands of public domain images. The vintage theme is what makes it unique. Find old travel posters, cartoons, and ads here.
  • Raumrot: Find photo sets in a variety of categories. Most images carry a CC-BY license, which means they are free to use commercially, but you must give credit to the creator.
  • Pexels: This is another large of collection of high-quality photos. This site lets you search by color, which is useful when you want to stick to your site’s color theme.

What If I Get a Cease-and-Desist Notice?

A Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice and similar cease-and-desist letters are notifications that copyright-infringed work is being used. If you get one, it’s a chance to correct the misuse.

If you know you aren’t using copyright-infringed work and want to fight it, you can. But the process is rarely quick or easy. Plus, legal fees can cost thousands and winning isn’t guaranteed.

Because of this, it’s not usually worth the time and cost to fight it. If you come to the same conclusion, replace the image with another free image and move on.

(Disclaimer: The author and publisher of this article are not lawyers and this is not legal advice. If you have questions about legal notices and copyright laws, you should talk to a lawyer.)

How Can I Keep Track of Images I Use?

It’s good practice to keep track of the images you publish should their usage be questioned. The easiest way is to maintain a spreadsheet that includes:

  • Your content’s publish date, title and link;
  • Links to the image source;
  • The image’s license type.

Then, if you receive a complaint or notification of copyright infringement, you can look up the image and license details to respond accordingly.

Do you need help with image selection and visual identity? Proactive Maintenance and Alt Creative can help. Book a free consultation to learn more.