Are You Accidentally Using Copyrighted Images?

Monday, April 26, 2010
As writers, we know we should give proper attribution to the author of any excerpted or referenced text. We know that copying another writer's words without attribution is wrong, not to mention illegal, and we safeguard our blog posts by asking for permission and linking to the original article. But what about pictures found on the Web?

Sometimes, adding a picture to a blog post comes as an afterthought. You spend so much time crafting your article that only when it's time to post you think, Gosh, what image can I use to go with this post? Then, in a mad dash, you do a search on Google Images and hope to find a picture that will illustrate your idea. And when you find the perfect image, you think it's okay to use because it's available online. But, the truth is, it's not.

I can't tell you how often I find bloggers using WOW's copyrighted images. It just happened the other day...

One of our freelancers alerted me to a blog post that heavily excerpted one of her articles. This post not only used most of the article's content without linking to it (around 800 words out of a 2,400-word article) but also used the header image from our article. Our freelancer was concerned because she knew I'd personally created the image (I mentioned in an e-mail, "Do you think this looks like a real photo? I hope so, because I Photoshopped it..."), so she wrote the blogger (and CC'd me) and asked if she'd obtained permission to use the image.

Later on that day, I received an e-mail from the blogger asking if it was okay if she used the image. Unfortunately, I had to tell her, it wasn't. Our images are either original works of graphic art and illustration or are images we license and pay for--whether they come from stock photography or straight from the source. I was also concerned that, since she uses a Blogger-hosted blog, by taking our image, downloading it, and then uploading it to Blogger's server, that Blogger now owns the rights to that image. Needless to say, I told her to remove it immediately and delete it from Blogger's image files. I also asked her to post a link to the original article that she heavily excerpted. It should go without saying.

You have to remember that artists and photographers are the same as writers. You wouldn't want someone stealing your words--that goes the same for images. Personally, I spend more time creating images for the WOW site than I do writing words. So, if you want to use an image with your blog post, make sure you ask for permission from the source. If that doesn't come through, you may want to consider purchasing an image from a site that licenses them such as,,, etc.

I know it's extra work to hunt down sources, but you're already used to doing it for words, so consider it part of your routine to do it for pictures. You'll avoid any complications down the road.


Margo Dill said...

Great post. I always get my photos from FLICKR and under CREATIVE COMMONS where the only requirement is to put who took the photo and the link to flickr. (

I actually had a photograper email me and say thanks for remembering to put his username. You can see how I do it with some examples on my blog:

I usually put the name RIGHT BY the photo. On WOW!'s post, I put it under my name at the bottom. I think currently there are like 15,000,000 photos to choose from in this section of Flickr, so there's usually something I can find to fit with my post.


Cathy C. Hall said...

I use photo websites like Flickr, too, and give attribution, but your post has me wondering, Angela.

I don't usually think about asking permission if I'm linking to an article on a website and using the website logo in the post. Do you think a writer should ask for permission for ANY use of artwork? (Let's just say, for instance, the WOW logo? :-)

WOW! said...

Margo, you are right. Bloggers etc. can use images from Flickr, but they have to have the creative commons license. Not ALL of the photos on Flickr do though--some are copyrighted. The easiest way to check is to use their "creative commons" link: If you follow that link you'll see which use creative commons and which use the "Attribution", "Noncommercial", "No Derivative", and "Share Alike" licenses. That page also gives you an explanation of the different rights.

Cath, for logos, I think *most* sites wouldn't mind, but it really depends on the site and what you're saying about them. ;) You'll notice that some sites don't let you take their logo from it when you try dragging or copy-pasting, and instead you end up copying a link or get a "space ball" (for Mac).

I personally don't mind people using our logo or some of our images when they are linking to WOW. It kind of depends though. For instance, that blogger I mentioned didn't link to our article, and she also downloaded our article header and uploaded it to blogger. My concern was that Blogger now owned the rights to it and *could* distribute it if they wanted. They probably wouldn't, but just by her uploading it blogger means she now owns that image, and others who ran across it in Google Images etc. would think it's okay to use on their sites.

I also have a different outlook when it comes to the authors of the articles on WOW. If the freelancer who wrote the article would like to use the header image from her article to link to it, it's okay with me because she's the author of the text.

I guess my point is, when in doubt, it's good to ask. ;)

Marcia Peterson said...

This is such useful information. Great to hear tips for finding and (properly) using images.

I've used the allowable flickr images, but am wondering if there are any other good places for free images?

Cathy C. Hall said...

Thanks, Ang! I guess I've always considered promoting a site as free advertising, and including the logo would be okay.

(MP, I also use stock.xchng for free images.)

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