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Are Online Images Fair Game to Use On Your Blog?

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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