A picture today is worth more than just a thousand words.
Used correctly, the right image could be worth dozens of likes from new followers on Facebook, retweets from important influencers, and even extra points in your profit margin. In fact, around 37% of all marketers say that visual marketing is one of the most important forms of content they use each day – second to the humble blog.
Using images on your website, social media posts, and profiles can be a powerful way to build your presence online. Visuals give depth to your online narrative, provide your customers with context to help them understand the message you’re trying to send, and let’s face it – they make your site nicer to look at too.
The problem is, you can’t just perform a quick search on Google and copy-paste any image you like into your content. Although that would make content production much easier, pretty much all the content you’ll find online through a standard image search belongs to someone else. If you take that work and post it on your blog, then you’re vulnerable to a lawsuit for copyright infringement, and that could mean some serious penalties are coming your way.
If you didn’t create the image, you could be in trouble
In today’s fast-paced and collaborative world of social media, it’s easy to assume that any picture you see on Facebook is free to use as you like. Unfortunately, even if you’d assume that other people would be flattered that you chose to use their image for your website or blog – you’d be surprised how many people react with anger and law-suits.
Not only does using someone else’s images mean you’re less likely to stand out from the crowd online but taking someone else’s work without permission is illegal too. Simply put, if you didn’t create the graphic or take the photo with your own camera (or your photographer’s camera), then you’re not the owner of that content. If you don’t own it, you can’t use it.
There are a few exceptions to that rule. For instance, if the owner of the image tells you that you can use the picture, and gives you their written permission, then you should be fine. Additionally, if the image you’re using comes from a website that’s already paid for the license to distribute images for free to the public, then you’re safe too.
One important thing to remember is that simply giving someone a shout out or a backlink isn’t going to negate your copyright infringement. Surprisingly, a lot of companies believe that they only need to include a link to the picture they’re using, and they’re free from any legal issue. That’s not the case; copyright law means that the copyright holder has the exclusive right to decide where their work is published.
Why problems with image copyrights are so common
If you’re new to the world of copyright law, then you might assume that any image which isn’t protected by a watermark or accompanied by a little “c” to show its copyright status is fair game. Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly true. Most of the work published online after 1989 will not need a copyright notice, simply because it’s expected that other people will know that they can’t take another person’s work.
While you might be able to retweet or share someone else’s image on your social media pages without falling into any trouble, it’s a whole different ball game when you try to take an image and use it on your website landing page, your blog post, or even your weekly newsletter. Unfortunately, the best way to make sure that your company is protected is to assume that every image you encounter online is copyrighted – until you can prove otherwise.
How to get free (and safe) images
So, how do you continue to use visuals online, without paying for your own photographer or graphic artist? Around 74% of social media marketers use images in their content, and not all of them will have someone on staff to gather the images they need for them.
Ultimately, while the easiest option might be to take or create the images yourself, there is a much more cost-efficient choice available too. Most companies still don’t realize that there are literally millions of high-quality photos and graphics available on websites that are designed to share repositories of free visuals.
There are plenty of reputable companies out there that curate images in the public domain and allow users to share their own free-to-use images on their site. With these public domain images, you’re free to use the pictures you choose any way you like. In most case, you won’t even have to attribute the image to the original creator.
Use this infographic on photography copyright laws about copyright law and online images to brush up on your education, and make sure that your visuals don’t get you into trouble: