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Using Online Images in Your Blog: Tread Carefully

Copyright Many business bloggers like to include a nice visual along with their text – a common blogging practice.

But be aware. The seemingly innocuous act of adding an image to blog posts (particularly when that image was found online) potentially sets all kinds of copyright landmines for unsuspecting bloggers. Earlier copyright discussions would apply to the use of someone else’s image on your or your company’s blog – including fair use considerations, the difference between the “Internet” and the “public domain” as well as the assumption most works are protected, and the distinction between copyright infringement and plagiarism.

Drawing from those considerations and expanding upon the licensing discussion in my last post, let’s talk about a couple considerations or tips regarding online images.

Get permission! As I hope I’ve been emphasizing these last few weeks, to properly use someone else’s image or other work, a blogger should have permission to do so. Permission to use online works often comes in the form of licensing. You may also consider simply sending an e-mail asking the owner if you can use the image, describe how you’d like to use it and ask how the owner would like you to attribute it. You may want to save that e-mail and start a file where you can save your “permission” e-mails.

Google Images. Google has some advanced searching features many users don’t know about. One of those features is the ability to search for images with specific licensing information. The Social Media Law Student blog offers a tutorial on this entitled, “How to Use Google Images Without Getting Sued.”

Other Services.  Even when using advanced Google image searches, or a content suggestion service such as Zemanta, remain cautious. Zemanta, for example, represents that its images are "copyright cleared." But the service ultimately just displays the licensing information. The user must independently decide if the image is “license appropriate” for its intended use. Many of these services also include terms of use under which they disclaim any liability for infringement or other harm that may result from use of the service. 

Ultimately, the key to understanding these licensing issues is to ensure you grasp the distinctions among the specific licenses and make an independent determination as to whether your intended use fits within the scope of the rights granted under that license.

Get Creative! So what is the safest route for you bloggers out there who want to use a photo? Use one of your own pictures! This doesn't mean you can find an image online and edit it to make it your own -- because derivative rights belong to the copyright owner. I literally mean grab your camera (or heck, you can even grab your iPhone) and snap a good on-topic picture of your very own.

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