Blog Law: Photo Use and Etiquette

Rules for Online Photo Use

Most SEO experts suggest using at least one photo in every blog post. From an aesthetic perspective it’s a good idea, especially when the photo has something to do with the content. Photos and images are especially important for food blogs. And, of course, there is that “A picture is worth a thousand words” adage.

I always thought everyone knew that copying and pasting photos found on the internet was a definite no-no given that nearly every image created in the last 30 years is still protected by copyright, whether here in the US or from another country extending such rights. Boy was I wrong! When I spoke at Blissdom, one of the questions I asked of the audience was how many people have had a photo stolen. Nearly every hand in the room went up. WOW! We’re talking about fifty-some people (probably more). I went on to ask how many people have used Google Images to find photos. Quite a few hands went up.

Today I want to discuss using photos found online. I will not talk about using images from a brand’s website. The focus is on those images and photos found by searching the internet and coming up with page after page of images that may be suitable for your needs.

What is Copyright? Copyright is protection created by the US Constitution that give virtually every author the exclusive right to use or reproduce their work. This is a federal law and therefore uniform across all states. And, as the US Government has signed on to a variety of international copyright agreements protection is essentially world-wide.

US Copyright is a protection that applies to original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium. “Original” means that an author produced a work by his or her own intellectual effort instead of copying or modifying it from an existing work. “Fixed in a tangible medium” means that the work is able to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated. Your blog is the necessary ‘tangible medium’. (17 USC 102)

Nearly every photo taken gives the author (the one who takes the photo) a protectable right to prevent others from using or reproducing that image. Of course there are exceptions, but generally, the photographer owns the copyright. This is actually very important to know should you ever hand your camera to someone else to take a photo. That’s a completely different discussion, but don’t get offended if you ask your photographer friend to use her camera and she says no.

How do I get a Copyright? Copyright is automatic upon creation of an original work of authorship. With regard to photography, with few exceptions, every image is accepted to be covered by copyright upon putting the photo onto a hard drive or similar device.

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Guidelines for Posting and Using Photos on Photo Sharing Sites

Using and Posting Photos on Photo Sharing Sites

Used to be that we would upload our photos to our computers and then email them out to friends and family. Then the photo files got to be larger and larger and it become annoying to send one photo at a time. Photo sharing sites were developed to help facilitate showing our friends and family photos of our kids and vacations. Today they’re both virtual albums for the casual photographer and portfolios for the professional. It simplified things. Somewhat.

But because some people believe that if it’s on the internet it’s free, they feel they can take any photo they can access and use it for whatever purpose. Unfortunately for many images that is not true. But the fact is that many people never actually read the Terms and Conditions of signing up for a photo sharing site. And in bypassing that critical step they may unknowingly agree to a royalty-free license for anyone to use, modify or distribute their image. You may own the copyright but it’s basically worthless.

Posting Photos on Photo Sharing Sites

The big two – Flickr and Picasa – do not, by its terms, take any actions as to the copyright or license of photos you upload. Both have clearly developed Creative Commons communities which allow users to set the terms and conditions by which their photos may be used by others.

One of the major sites that is not as protective of your copyright is PhotoBucket. There are other smaller photo sharing sites that have used similar terms. By uploading your images you are basically giving up your claim of copyright because you are authorizing such a broad and sweeping license. You’re not giving the right to sell the image but that’s about all you are retaining.

By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the Photobucket Services, you hereby grant to Photobucket and other users a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channels, except Content marked “private” will not be distributed outside the Photobucket Services.

Have you ever read the Terms and Conditions of your photo sharing site? Probably not. I don’t blame you. The type is small, a bunch of legalese and we’re so used to just clicking ‘Agree’ and being on our way.

I am just using these three because they are the largest. I highly recommend checking out if your photo sharing site allows you to maintain creative control over your uploaded imaged.

Using Photos From Photo Sharing Sites

You’re looking for a photo so you go to Flickr, PhotoBucket or Picasa and look for something that fits your post. A quick search yields seemingly endless possibilities. You choose a photo and download it to your computer so you can use it in your post. Maybe you credit with a link to the page you found it on, maybe not. You might just put the username or profile name. Depends on how you’re feeling.

The fact that you don’t know much about the image should give you pause. At minimum you should believe that the person who posted the image has the copyright on the image. Barring any information to the contrary, the person who takes a photography will normally obtain copyright in that image. Did you check to see if there were any licenses on the image? Did you specifically search for a creative commons licensed image?

Taking an image from a photo sharing site can open you up to potential problem if you do not have the right to use the image. Not every photo is licensed for use on these sites. And most that do require, at minimum, some type of attribution. Knowing what type of attribution is required is important.

If you want to use images from photo sharing sites, know what you are and are not permitted to do. If the copyright holder is gracious enough to allow you to use the image under a creative commons license, follow their requirement.


Know what you’re agreeing to when you post your images to a photo sharing site. And equally as important, know if an image you want to use from a photo sharing site is fully protected by copyright or subject to some license that will permit you to use it. And if you can use it, know the terms of use. Copyright protection of images when it comes to use on the web is significant.

If your copyrighted image is used without permission you’re not required to send a cease and desist before using other protections from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Furthermore, by using a copyrighted image you risk your site being taken down without warning. It may not seem fair, but a copyright holder has some very powerful tools to prevent unauthorized use of their images.

For other articles about the legal implications of being online, check out my series on blog law and online rights.

Disclosure: While I am a lawyer, I am not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship. This post is part of my Blog Law Series.


365 Project Day 7 – Protection

Project 365 Day 7 - The Protectors

As part of the feng shui we do for our house, we cluster certain things in groups of 3. Three because that’s how many we are. And we don’t just cluster randomly, it’s very purposeful. You’ll notice that there are 2 larger shells and a smaller one. The smaller one being ‘protected’ by the larger two. This represents our family.

Photograph notes: I violate the rule of thirds by centering the main image, the shells. I need to remember that rule! Also, I nearly cut off one shell. I’m learning.


My Journey to Become a Photographer

Blissdom Photography Workshop
Trying my hand at manual setting on my camera

Today, February 1st, I begin my journey to become a photographer. No, not a professional one. Just a girl with a camera who can take a decent photo. My friend Kate and I are doing the 365 Project. It’s where you take one photo every day for a year. The premise is not only to document your life but also improve as a photographer. Kate is already a fabulous photographer. She’s a bit like a mentor to me with this project. But really, you should check out her blog because her photos are that terrific!

I have a fancy new dSLR camera, and a beautiful black and white toile with felt rosettes camera strap (don’t worry, I’ll figure out how to photograph it!). Now, to start taking photos. At the Blissdom conference I took the Photography Workshop and learned a great deal about my camera. Enough that I was able to take a few nice photos. I have a year to figure out how it all works and what all these buttons and acronyms and letters mean.

I hope you enjoy my photos. I’ll be looking for neat things to photograph too. I promise I’ll find other things besides martini glasses with candy in them!

If you have a camera at home, join in! You don’t have to have a blog. Just a camera and a desire to photograph at least one thing every day for a year. You’re welcome to email them to me and I’ll post it (with your permission, of course).

Wish me luck!


On Becoming a Photographer

@AngryJulie photographs BabyGirl's ponies at BlogHer

This year I decided that I was either going to learn how to ballroom dance or become a photographer. Both have been on my Someday list for quite some time. Ballroom dancing looks so elegant and now that there are shows on TV that feature it so I’m not so strange in saying I want to learn how to ballroom dance.

But ballroom dancing will have to wait another year because this is the year I will become a photographer. With a real camera!

I was asking a few people about cameras. I have had pretty decent point and shoot digital cameras since 1997. But a real camera has always intimidated me. And by real camera I mean one of those with an actual lens that you adjust and a real flash that will light up the subject and not just blind you while creating a horrible photo.

I asked my friend Julie from Angry Julie Monday what type of camera would be a good one to start with given my limited knowledge of photography. Julie’s a photographer for her ‘in real life’ job and has had jobs as the official photographer for several blogger events. I trust her knowledge of cameras and photography and knew she wouldn’t steer me in the wrong direction.

She suggested this beautiful Nikon D3100 as a good beginner dSLR camera. It was a conversation we had on Twitter. And Julie was helpful and kind and I think only laughed at me once or twice. Maybe three times if you count an LOL. Most of all, she assured me that this camera would be easy enough to start me out but also sophisticated enough to stay with me as I improved.

Guess what arrived today as my New Year gift from CycleGuy? Yes, you guessed it! My very own Nikon D3100. With a real lens that is separate from the body of the camera. (Now how do I attach it? I really need to read the manual, don’t I?)  And I’m afraid to take it out of the box! I’m so excited but at the same time I don’t want to screw it up or take ugly pictures. I know there will be a learning curve and you all get to be the guinea pigs and see my ‘not yet ready for prime time’ photos.

I’ll be linking up with various photography sites and weekly links and I look forward to sharing with you my new-found interest. I hope you’ll share your thoughts as I journey through the year in photos. If you’re a photographer your insights and professional knowledge are always welcome.

Now, I’d better go unpack my new camera because it won’t do me any good in the box! And if you see me with my new fancy camera, smile, say cheese and hold that pose while I figure out what the heck an F-stop is and if the white balance is balanced and if I’m on the correct ISO. I’m not sure what any of that means but it sounds all fancy-like camera speak doesn’t it?