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Are Online Images Fair Game to Use On Your Blog?

Categories: Blogging, Blogging for Writers, Build a Platform & Start Blogging, Freelance Writer, Article Writing, Legal Questions, What's New.

Q: Recently someone informed me that I violated copyright [by posting] one of his cartoons on my blog. I apologized and removed the image. Now I’m worried about other images I’ve used. My blog is simply to connect with other writers and I don’t make any money from it. What are the rules for using images on a noncommercial, recreational blog? —Anonymous

A: It’s extremely common for bloggers to reuse images from all over the Web, thinking the images are fair game. But that assumption is wrong, and taking someone else’s work can get you into trouble.

Most images posted online are copyrighted, and you must receive permission from the copyright holder to use them. The owner of the image could be its creator, a business, a nonprofit, etc.—regardless, you don’t have the right to use it without written consent. Think about it in writing terms: If you post a short story on your blog, you own it and you wouldn’t want others to post it on their websites without your permission, would you? Most writers wouldn’t. An image is basically a pictorial story that holds the same copyright benefits your writing does.

Keep in mind that just because you can’t take images freely from any site you please, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of online images available for free use. One great resource is Wikipedia’s Wikimedia Commons, which houses more than 9 million usable media files. Or, pick a search engine and type in “public domain images” to find hundreds of links. If you need something specific, like “a hippopotamus wearing a sombrero,” add that to your search and see what comes up. You may be able to find the perfect image just by doing that. And you won’t be infringing on anyone’s rights in the process.

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11 Responses to Are Online Images Fair Game to Use On Your Blog?

  1. Great reminder about the importance of choosing pictures wisely. I often will do an image search limiting the search to ".gov" websites. Pictures you download from those government sites are in the public domain. I’ve found a wide variety of images using this method.

  2. Jay G. says:

    Maybe you should update this answer to note that not all images found in Wikimedia Commons are in the public domain. While many are, many images are provided to the project under the GFDL or a Creative Commons license that requires attribution for the creator(s) when you use it.

  3. Jennifer F says:

    What about images scanned from print media? Is attibution enough? Any tips?

  4. Patricia G says:

    I just started blogging. Thank for the tips.

  5. Frequently, particularly if it is a political cartoon, the creator will have some code on the website so you can put it in your blog or your email.

  6. Nojh says:

    What about fair use? If you’re blog entry provides commentary, criticism, or news reporting (among a few other very specific uses) on the image or content that the image is taken from, then you shouldn’t need permission from the copyright holder.

  7. Thanks, a great help. The potential pictures suggested in wordpress for the blog just keyed are linked to the source i.e. wikepedia or flicker etc. and give the information as to its use (allowed, how it can be used, or not).

    I have seen some of my writings posted on other sites which were used without my permission!


  8. When I first starting blogging I made the same mistake, until Husband (an advocate) asked about copyright. So I searched and found sites where free images are available. But I still give credit and link back to the original site. If I absolutely can’t find a free image I write to the owner (most are happy to let me use it) or I link back to the site I found it and then add a note about "please contact me if any copyright issues".

  9. Julie Nilson says:

    Thank you! I was just wondering about this very thing as I’m going to start posting on my blog with more regularity.

  10. Monica says:

    Wikipedia also has the very usual Public Domain Image Resource, which lists different public domain image sites.

  11. Thanks so much for the tips and the link to Wikimedia Commons. Didn’t know about that one. Thanks!

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