How to Use Images in Your Blog Without Getting Burned

I’m taking a break from history topics today to share something I got from one of my favorite marketing resources – Hubspot. When I saw Hubspot’s post: How Not to Steal People’s Content on the Web, I thought, “I just have to share this with other writers.”

Discolsure: I am not actually a paying customer of theirs nor do I get paid for mentioning them, but I read almost every post they write!

I am a huge fan of blogs and subscribe to a couple dozen of them, many written by fellow historical authors, (not all romance, though) and I see a lot of images on these sites with no source attached. I know several of these bloggers are also photographers, and I suspect these images are their own – although a few look like they were taken in museum settings. I sincerely hope the bloggers are getting permission to use the images.  

On the other hand, there are a lot of images that look like they were lifted from Google images or Wikipedia, yet no source is attached.

Here’s a couple of quick tips for using images that I’ve learned from this blog and my career as a marketing consultant.

1.      For my day job as a marketing consultant, I get most of my images from istock. There is a cost to these images, but they are usually ultra-high quality and the price isn’t too bad. Just be careful as not all the images from istock and similar sources come without strings attached. You want to be sure you read the details before purchasing an image and assuming you have carte blanch rights to it.

2.      For my blog, I usually rely on Wikimedia Commons. Many of the images here are no longer under copyright or posted by the owner under a Creative Commons license. However, you need to read the copyright statement dictating the terms of use. Many require attribution and sometimes in a specific format.

3.      Wikipedia is not the same thing as Wikimedia Commons. Although many of Wikipedia’s images come from Wikimedia Commons, not all do. The easiest way to determine the source is to right click on it. (Not sure about how to do this on the Mac OS) This will take you to the source. If it’s Wikimedia Commons, you can just scroll down the page to see the copyright details and instructions.

4.      Hubspot’s blog shows you how to go directly to Creative Commons. I have not used this route, but I plan to try it as it may give even more image options than Wikimedia Commons.

5.      Even sites like Microsoft’s clipart aren’t always safe. This site use to have a vague statement saying that these images weren’t intended for commercial use. Who’s to say what’s commercial, though?  Since I have a link to a book that’s for sale on this site, is anything I post here “for commercial use”? You never know how the owner of the image will see it. Plus, lately I’ve seen images posted from sources including istock on Microsoft’s site. It doesn’t tell you there is a fee attached for their usage, but if you look the image up on istock, it’s not free. I made the personal decision that it was better to be safe than sorry, and I stay away from sites like Microsoft and Google Images.

6.      Every now and then I run across an image on a site that I really want to use, e.g., the 18th century toothbrushes in my recent post on dental hygiene. I simply reached out the National Museum of Dental History on whose site I found these images, asked for their permission and got a reply back within a couple hours. Most sites include contacts. PR contacts are often the most responsive since their job is to spread the word. If a PR contact isn’t listed even an @info contact is worth a try.

7.      Same thing goes for images on another blogger’s site, facebook or newer sites like Pinterest. (Pinterest is one of those sites that has the potential to catch a lot of people offguard.) I would add an extra caution that you check their original source before using an image even if they grant you permission. Not all bloggers are copyright savvy and permission may not be theirs to give. For example, I don’t own those toothbrush images even though I received permission to use them. Technically, I can’t even use them again without asking permission.

I have seen recent posts by poor bloggers who got caught in lawsuits they could ill afford, money or time-wise, simply because they used an image they thought was public domain. Unfortunately, removing the image from your site with a heart-felt apology doesn’t always do the trick. While I don’t approve of piracy in any form, I am  also convinced there are photographers who place images on the web hoping to catch some poor sap they can extort. To me it’s just piracy of a different sort. Don’t let yourself get caught.


P.S. I am also not a lawyer so use my advice at your own risk and discretion!

P.S.S. The same advice applies to those of you who blog using images of hunky male models you find on the web. Using these without permission leaves you doubly open to lawsuits from the photographer and the model!

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