Imagine that you’re a food blogger, and you’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time perfecting a new recipe and then plating it, getting the light and background just right, and taking (and then editing) a ton of pictures to get the perfect one. You post it on your blog, proud of all the hard work and results. And then a few weeks or months later, you see another post on another site for a similar recipe…but they’re using your image.
This is, unfortunately, a lot more common than you’d think. It definitely happens with content, but it happens more often (and more shamelessly) with images. Because they’re so easy to access and share on their own sites, people don’t think twice about using them as their own, and normally this happens without any malignant intentions.
So what images can you use for commercial purposes? What images can bloggers utilize on their sites that they themselves haven’t taken? What counts as copyright infringement, and what can you do if someone takes your content? We’re going to look at all that and more in this post.
What Counts as Copyright Infringement?
This comes as a surprise to the majority of people when they originally find out: under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), all content published online is protected under copyright law. This happens automatically, and whether or not you’ve got the little copyright symbol anywhere on your site, and no matter what form it takes—writing, images, podcasts, and more.
What this means: any content that you find online is probably copyrighted unless expressly stated otherwise.
If you (either as a business, or just as a casual for-fun blogger) take content, images, or any other form of media from anywhere online and put it on your site, that counts as copyright infringement.
For all Facebook marketers, this means you, too; you definitely don’t want to run an ad using an image that you found on Google, because it could be breaking copyright laws—even if you never meant to.
What You Can Use
Ok, so we now know the basics of what you can’t use without violating copyright image (read: almost everything). So what can you use?
When it comes to content that is so great from another site that you want to share it on yours, you have a few options. The best and most safe of these options is to contact the site owner directly and ask to feature their content/images (with a link back to their site) or to purchase the images outright. For content that I own and clients haven’t paid me for, for example, I am open to discussing reprint fees, where someone will pay me to repost my content on their site. You have to be prepared for a no, but there’s a chance they’ll be interested.
Images that you have paid to have created can belong to you, at least in the majority of cases. If you hire a photographer and they sign a contract giving you rights to the photos and images with purchase, they’re officially yours. You’ll want to discuss this with that photographer and check over the contract.
You can also utilize stock photos—this is best way to quickly find relevant, high quality images for your site with taking or creating them yourself. There are a ton of great stock photo sites out there, many of them paid and some free. Sites like iStockPhotos (paid), Shutterstock (paid), Unsplash (free), and Pixabay (free) are examples of stock photos sites, both free and paid for.
In general, most of these sites will feature high quality images; paid sites tend to have a wider variety and more specific images, but it never hurts to check out the free sites first.
What if Someone Takes My Content?
If you have any content on the internet that’s even a moderately decent quality, which you’ve likely fought off writers/artists block to create, there’s a good chance someone is going to try to take it at some point. I’ve had to deal with multiple people taking both writing and screenshots and copying them, posting them on their blog, and trying to take credit (even when the images have my actual Facebook account name on them). It’s annoying, it’s infuriating, and it’s exhausting. It’s also unfortunately very common.
To see how to prevent and track copyright infringement on your content, you can check out this great post here.
The first step to take is to contact the person who has taken your content. More often than not, people don’t realize that what they’ve done is wrong—they think because it popped up on Google, it’s ok to take. Even if it was intentional, getting called out is enough for many people to take it down right away.
If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to find out who is hosting the site that copied yours by going to Who is Hosting This. You’ll then contact the web hosts and explain the situation, and they’re often much more efficient at taking the content down at this stage than webmasters may be.
You can also file a DMCA complaint against the person who took your content, which you do through Google Webmaster Tools. This will ensure that their content won’t rank in the search engines if Google finds the complaints to be true, and their Adwords account will be banned as well.
Taking an image, copying it, and using it as your own doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to a lot of people (there are a million nearly-identical pictures of roses, apple pies, and trucks online, right?), but it can open you and/or your business open to serious liability, which can have serious legal ramifications, along with a damaged reputation. Knowing where you can get images and how to use them can make all the difference—and now we do.
Keep in mind that the majority of the time, when you purchase or acquire a free image, you will have access and permission to use it through a copyright license– this does not mean that you own the image indefinitely and can sell it to others. Rights still belong to the owner of the image (whether that’s a stock site or photographer).
Where do you get images for your sites? Are you protecting your content by tracking and preventing copyright infringement? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!