There is a great deal of misconception when it comes to finding and sharing images online. The large majority of people sharing images online are doing it wrong. They have no idea that the way in which they are sharing them can actually get them banned, blacklisted or even prosecuted in a court of law!
Not only that, but those of us who understand the best practices notice when someone is sharing without regard to copyright or attribution. This can hurt your online reputation and mark you as a bad internet citizen.
Have no fear because in this post I’m going to cover everything you need to know about the legal side of sharing images online.
If you want to skip past the legal mumbo-jumbo and go straight to the How to part, click here. (I don’t recommend skipping the legal mumbo-jumbo though. I’ve spent a lot of time making it very simple and it’s always good to be more educated on a subject as highly complex as this.)
This is part of the Essential Guide to Sharing Images Online Series. Be sure to catch all the posts in this series!
Destroying the Myths
There is a great deal of misinformation and gross misunderstanding about image sharing. The good folks over at Legal123 have created the infographic below which tackles the 5 greatest myths.
Key takeaways from the infographic:
- No matter what you see other people doing, just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean you’re free to share it.
- Just because you give someone else credit or attribution doesn’t mean you’re free and clear.
- Just because you’re not making a profit from it doesn’t make it right.
Bottom line– unless the owner or creator of the image has clearly stated that the work is free to use and share, you don’t have the right to use it. Period.
An Example Most of Us Can Relate To
We’re specifically talking about images in this series but to give a parallel example that we are all familiar with, allow me to take you back to grade school.
Do you remember your teacher telling you that it is wrong to copy someone else’s work and pass it off as your own? We’ve all gotten the plagiarism talk in one form or another right?
Well imagine that I’m surfing the internet and I come across a quote in a blog post that I think is really good. I decide I want to share it out to my social networks. So what I do is copy the quote and just paste it into a new Google+ post with no link to the source and no citation of the author.
That’s plagiarism right? And that’s not something honest people do right? Okay good. So why would it be okay to copy and paste someone else’s image and share it without giving them credit?
Now when it comes to works such as images, it’s crosses the line quickly from just plagiarism to being copyright infringement. What most people don’t know is that violating copyright in this manner can actually get your social media account deleted without notice.
That’s right– deleted. Without notice. All it takes is for one copyright owner to file a complaint and goodbye Google+, Twitter, or Facebook account! Or worse, if you’re using copyrighted images without permission on your website or blog, enough complaints can get you blacklisted by search engines.
Or worse yet, you can be taken to court! This is rare, but still a possibility if you’ve made a large amount of violations.
So bottom line, share responsibly. How do you do that? Well I’m glad you asked!
1. Search for Images that are Free To Share
When you go to search for a sharable image, be sure that part of your search criteria is that the image is free to use and share— I’ve created an extensive list of free image sites just for this series.
You can use Google image search to help you with this as well. Just hit the gear icon (shown below) and click on Advanced search. Then you can scroll down to the Usage rights section and select the Free to use and share option.
2. Look or Ask for Permission
There are some artists or photographers who are okay with people using their images as long as they give proper attribution. They will make it clear somewhere on their website that they are perfectly okay with people using their photographs as long as a link is provided back to the original. Trey Ratcliff is a great example of this– see his Licensing page here.
So before you grab an image from a website, take a minute to search for their policy on the use of their images. If you cannot find an obvious policy, contact the creator and ask permission.
I’ve been asked permission on many occasions by folks who want to use my images in presentations and such. You know what my response is every time? “Sure! Thanks for asking!”
Most artists don’t mind that you want to share their work, but they want to maintain some degree of control and attribution. By respecting their work and asking permission, you may also make a friend in the process.
I’ve done this with several photographers and have always gotten a positive response.
Let’s Make the Internet A Better Place
[Cue the warm and fuzzy inspirational music.]
Look, people will always take and steal other people’s work and pass it off as their own. In fact right now, this blog post and the images in it have probably been copied and pasted into a dozen spam sites, and I haven’t even hit Publish yet. It’s that big of a problem.
But you can make a difference. If you resolve to share responsibly, to be a good internet citizen, to give credit where credit is due and to stop supporting those who are knowingly (or unknowingly) stealing other people’s hard work, we can make a better internet. Set the example, rise above the standard, and it will always come back to you for the better!
Until then, what questions do you have regarding the legality of sharing images online? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
For further reading, the ever-awesome Peg Fitzpatrick, the incredible Ana Hoffman and expert attorney Sara Hawkins have written great pieces on the subject:
- The Best Ways to Be Sure You’re Legally Using Online Photos – by Sara Hawkins
- Oh Snap, Can I (Legally) Use That Photo? by Peg Fitzpatrick
- Free Blog Images: Where to Find Them and How to Use Them – by Ana Hoffman
- Copyright Fair Use and How It Works for Online Images by Sara Hawkins
- The Ultimate Student Guide to Images