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How to Use Visual Content on Your Blog (The Legal Way)

ATTRIBUTION: Flickr user ralphbijker"A picture is worth a thousand words" is as true as it ever is in the world of digital media and marketing.  An inviting, compelling image is a great way to get customers to venture on your website or read your blog.

However, not every image that you can "right-click, save" is actually yours for the taking (and can get you in some serious copyright issues down the line.)

Here's how to choose your visual content... legally.

Approach Every Image With Caution

As Steamfeed recently quoted in their own article on visual content usage:

"Ignorance of the law excuses no one."

In other words, the "I didn't know!" excuse just doesn't cut it when it comes to copyright infringement.  Which brings us to rule number 1:

 If you don't know the rights, don't use it.

Just because you don't see any obviously apparent copyright infringement laws floating around the image, doesn't mean they don't exist.  Any one person who designs an image of original work has an automatic right (and copyright) as soon as those images are created.  Completed, not completed, published, unpublished, registered in the copyright office or not, it is best to assume EVERYTHING you come across online, that does not explictly state it can be reused and/or modified, is off limits.

Search for your images in the right way

The best place to start is to initially look for images in places that will not get you in trouble.  Which brings us to rule number 2:

 The phrase "creative commons" is your best friend.

There are free, use-by-all websites that you can search for images to supplement your content.  Here's a list to get you started (more here from Steamfeed):

- everystockphoto.com; Each photo lists what license it is covered by, and what you must do to satisfy it (i.e. provide attribution)

- search.creativecommons.org; why not use the creative commons website to search for creative commons content?

- flickr.com/search/advanced/; Here you can perform an advanced search (scroll to the bottom of the page and check the box below) showing "creative commons" licensed content only.  These images may still require attibution, so be sure to check the image properties first before you take the image.

- commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page; These images have specifications for re-use, but are clearly identified on the page.

- google image search (advanced); You can use Google images to search for images that are specifically labeled for reuse.  Click on search tools, usage rights, and then labeled for reuse.  This will then display only images that have been labeled for reuse (providing attibution is most often best.)

Don't see what you like? Buy it or create it.

If you're not seeing what you want, the best idea is to either buy or create the image you're invisioning.  We know not everyone is a Photoshop guru (and that many of you wouldn't even dream of trying to draw something).  Which brings us to Rule #3:

It's better to pay a little now than to pay a lot later

Copyright desputes get expensive, timely, and are just plain ugly.  It is much better to spend a little bit now on acquiring the image you want now, legally, than to end up paying steep legal costs later. Thankfully, there are a handful of affordable image services out there that let you purchase the right to use an image.

A few you can use are:

If you're looking to develop original images for your website or need help finding images, don't hesitate to send us an email or give us a call.  We'll be happy to help!

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Jason Finn

Founder & Chief Geek

Jason has nearly 20 years of consulting experience, predominantly in the technology space. Most recently he was the COO and Director of Technology for Rich Casto & Company, a national training and consulting organization in the real estate industry.
As a consultant for IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Envision Consulting Group (now IMS Health), Jason has served clients of all sizes, including Big Pharma, Fortune 500, and Global 1000 companies:

  • Allstate Insurance Company
  • AOL (America Online)
  • Astellas Pharmaceuticals
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Ford Motor Credit
  • Wockhardt USA (formerly Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals)
  • Norwich Union
  • PNC Bank
  • Reynolds and Reynolds

Sarunas Budrikas

Creative Director

Sarunas is a web design and development expert with hundreds of successful projects in his portfolio. He is passionate about delivering extraordinary user experiences for every client and consistently goes above and beyond everyone’s expectations. As an SEO expert and strategist, he can optimize your website, or app, to get the most out of it, day in and day out. Sarunas holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Kaunas Technology University, in Lithuania. Sarunas now lives in Chicago, and calls it home.

Alexandra Olsavsky

Client Experience Specialist

Alex specializes in content generation and social media promotion for Geek | Chicago clients, helping to solidify their presence in the online community. This includes blog writing, graphic design, co-ordination and design of weekly newsletters, and active engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Outside of Geek, Alex is a classically-trained soprano who professionally performs around the city of Chicago (most recently with the Chicago Baroque Band, and with the Rolling Stones for their "50 and Counting" tour).