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5 Steps to Avoiding the Dangers of Unlicensed Website Photos

January 19, 2018 Stephanie Fisher

SW-mojo-blog-header-5 Steps to Avoiding the Dangers of Unlicensed Website Photos

Have you ever made an innocent mistake, a bad choice... but you didn't know it was a bad choice until a year later?

If you're randomly selecting images from the internet and posting them on your blog, you may get to experience this unpleasant feeling.


Part of my job as Content Developer at Mojo is writing blogs and selecting images or creating graphics to go with those blog posts. 

In the olden days (a year ago) I was using this app, CompFight, to pick images on Flickr that were marked Creative Commons license. I really loved this tool, because it lets you search Flickr for photographs that are part of the Creative Commons, which means many of them are free to use. Or so I thought.

A quick note about image licensing and fair use.

It doesn't matter...

  • if you link back to the source and list the photographer's name
  • if the picture is not full-sized
  • if you did it innocently
  • if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn't claim the photo was yours
  • if you've added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site
  • if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn't absolve you.)

Only licensed images, or images where you have express permission from the author, are safe to use on your blog.

So, back to the story where I learned a lesson.

One of the images I used for a blog post came back to haunt me. Mojo received a letter saying that they owned the image, and that we weren't licensed to use it. We had to take the image down but there were other complications I won't get into. 

I was wrong and it was a mistake to use the image, even though I thought I had permission.

Suffice to say, you can get sued over this. You can lose money over this. There are copyright trolls out there wandering to and fro, seeking to devour those who use an unlicensed image! At least, that's how I imagine it.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger (am I pushing the dramatic imagery, here?) so I took action and did some research awhile back to protect SpinWeb and our clients so that we didn't have to deal with this problem again. Here are 5 steps that you can take to keep your blog squeaky clean and lawsuit free.

1. Don't use Google Images.

It is the most tempting thing in the world to do a quick Google Image search and find a photo. It seems like everyone is doing, but you're smarter than that! You don't know where those photos come from. Even if you credit the source, you can still get in big trouble for using a photo, graphic, or image that you didn't get permission for, or that you didn't pay for.

2. Beware Flickr Creative Commons.

Well, I've already talked a little bit about this, but the thing about Creative Commons and Flickr is that the users can change their permissions or requirements at any time. It doesn't matter if it was under Creative Commons at the time when you used it.

Be careful if you use Creative Commons. For each photo you select, you need to read the fine print under "Some rights reserved" link.


3. Ask permission when in doubt.

If you're not sure about a photo or graphic you're about to use (maybe it's on a fellow blogger's blog) then simply send them an email and ask for permission to use it. If they say OK, make sure to save the email communications.

4. Use your own original photography.

Apps like Instagram make it super simple to take your own quick snapshots on your phone and create an original stock photo gallery of your own. 

I just took this one at home, with my iPhone and found objects. I can imagine it working with a blog titled "10 Things to Do When You Run Out of Coffee at Work"


5. Use these trusted stock photography websites. 

Last, but certainly not least and in fact I would say this is the most important: if you have the means, subscribe to a stock photography service like Shutterstock or iStock. You can also get royalty-free images each week on iStock, if your budget doesn't allow for a subscription, and from places like HubSpot that gives away free image downloads occasionally.

SpinWeb uses a subscription to Shutterstock and we're pretty happy with it. What do you do for images on your blog, website, even slide decks for presentations, for corporate use? Make sure you're protected by using licensed photos. I'd love to hear if any of you have experienced this problem and how you've handled it. Drop me a line in the comments below!


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Stephanie Fisher

Stephanie Fisher

Steph leads our client delivery team and is obsessed with delivering quality work, creating an efficiency machine, and mastering the tools and disciplines to achieve success for our heroes. At home, she loves listening to true crime podcasts, playing with her daughters and two pugs, and singing in a local rock band with her husband.

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