Using Images Without Breaking Laws

28 Apr Using Images Without Breaking Laws

Large copyright sign made of colorful jigsaw puzzle pieces, isolated on a white background in landscape mode and with plenty of white space on the right side.

Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan


Twice a month as I upload my blog posts, Hubspot gently reminds me to include an image with the text. “Images do help blog articles perform better, ” the system tells me.

And I know Hubspot is right – so if I don’t already have an image picked out, I peruse the Internet in search of the perfect photo or graphic to accompany my blog.

While a Google Image search makes it relatively easy to find something that fits my topic – copyright laws make it slightly trickier when determining what can be posted. For those of you who face the same struggles I do, here is a bit of basic information and tips for making sure your image won’t lead you into trouble:


Copyright and copyright infringement – what exactly is it?

Copyright attaches to a work as soon as the original is created – and it applies to both published and unpublished works. That means as soon as you click the button on your iPhone you have a copyright image – and it is an automatic right, meaning it does not require the creator to file paperwork.

Copyright infringement includes any violation of the rights of the creator or rights holder. Examples of imagery infringement include:

  • Using an image or part of an image without permission
  • Using an image beyond the scope of a license or permission
  • Adapting an image without permission (art rendering)
  • Asking another photographer to identically recreate the image


Types of Licenses

There are three main types of licenses you should understand before choosing and image: Creative Commons, Royalty Free and Public Domain.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization set up to allow photographers to easily license creative works for others to legally share and build upon. The organization has released several copyright-licenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public.  These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators. With Creative Commons you don’t have to pay to use an image but you must provide a photo credit.

Royalty Free refers to the right to use copyrighted material without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use. You will likely come across this in stock photo sites and will only have to pay once.

Public Domain is when intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. Examples of this include the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven. No licensing or purchasing is required for public domain photos and the photographers have chosen to allow their work to be used by all.


Avoiding Trouble

Regardless of what type of license the image you are using has, always give credit to where the image originated. This should likely be done with a link back to the original source or directly to the Creative Commons license you are using. When in doubt, assume any image is subject to copyright and don’t use it without the appropriate permission.

There are a lot of sites that help you find photos available for use, such as stock.xchng, Flickr and The most important thing to remember is that regardless of where you find your photos, know and follow the terms of use.

So before clicking publish on that blog post, spend an extra few minutes and read the fine print for your image to make sure you are using it how the creator intended. It’ll be worth it in the long run!

Kathryn Kaplan
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