How to Find Online Images for Your Blog Post and Website — Legally

Not everyone has the budget or desire to hire photographers to fulfill their image needs. While we sometimes use stock images, we also cringe at their overuse as well. That begs the question: where do I find images online and how do I know if I’m using them legally? Here’s how to source images without neglecting Copyright laws.


Understanding The U.S. Copyright Act

The U.S. Copyright Act is lengthy. For a full understanding, feel free to read all 13 chapters, but here’s the TLDR version. The Copyright Act defines images as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works,” which obviously includes photos, but it also includes illustrations, charts, maps, diagrams, technical drawings, architectural plans, art reproductions. Once the creator puts pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or clicks the camera shutter, he or she is granted these exclusive rights:

  • Rights to reproduce the image
  • Rights to prepare new images and other works based on the original image
  • Rights to display the image publicly
  • Right to distribute copies of the image to the public

Fair Use Rights

Fair use is an exception and limitation of rights of exclusivity that are granted by the Copyright Act to the creator. Fair use allows for a limited use of copyrighted material without permission and authorization from the author of the work. The purpose of fair use is to provide limited use of the work if it benefits the public. Fair use is not a go-ahead to use any and all images; there are rules and limits.

The law states, “The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

These four factors determine whether the use of an image is considered fair:

  1. The purpose of use: Is it of a commercial nature or instead for a nonprofit, educational, news reporting, scholarly, or research purpose?
  2. The nature of the work: Is it fact-based or public content?
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: Is it a high-resolution billboard or a low-resolution thumbnail?
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work: meaning you couldn’t have purchased or licensed the work otherwise.

As you can imagine, there are entire legal careers built upon the knowledge of fighting for and defending against fair use. A fair use dispute could severely harm your career. In short, if you are using any work for a commercial purpose, it’s most likely not fair use, and you should consult a lawyer if you intend to use it anyway.

Legally Sourcing Images

Where do you currently find images? Do you or your employees create photos, designs, and illustrations? Or do you find them online or in print somewhere?

In order to legally source images you have a few great options:

  • Hire someone to create the work.
  • Ask the creator of already produced work for usage permission (get it in writing).
  • Rely on free or paid stock image websites.
  • Search Google using the “Advanced Search” filter.
  • Use the image under the Fair Usage exception.

Using Google

You can easily filter your Google search results to ensure any images and videos you find are legal to use for your intended purposes. To do so, (1) enter your search term, (2) then click “settings” and use the advanced search filter called, “usage rights.” This will tell you your rights, ranging from:

  • Free to use or share.
  • Free to use or share commercially.
  • Free to use, share, or modify.
  • Free to use, share, or modify commercially.

Stock Image Websites

Here is a roundup of stock image websites with a mixture of free and paid images. Many offer royalty-free options. Even if you use royalty-free options, you’ll be more respectful (and just cooler) if you include attribution of either the site or the photographer in the photo caption when you post it.

As digital content creators, we have a responsibility to follow the rules laid out by the U.S. Copyright Act. Fortunately, this act protects us, and even this blog post, even if it does makes sourcing images more of a task. If we don’t respect Copyright, we run the risk of a lawsuit. Damaging an entire career or business over a single photo sounds absurd, but that mistake can cost thousands. For the photographer, it is their livelihood and seen as a deserved payday, not a joke. Before publishing any images you don’t own, assume it is copyrighted and act accordingly.

If you don’t want to deal with finding images for your blog, contact us for help.

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