You’ve heard you need to have lots of cool, enticing images to lure people over to your blog, to keep attention, to share on social. But… are you opening yourself up to a lawsuit?
It’s okay. No need to panic. But you do need to exercise caution and prepare yourself. Luckily, it’s easy.
You’re more than welcome to use just about any image you find online. What you are not allowed to do is steal any image you find online.
How do you know if you’re stealing? Well–did you tell anyone where you found the image? If you didn’t, it’s possible it’s stolen, and you could possibly, maybe get sued.
The likelihood of a lawsuit depends on what you’re doing with the image, what the image is, and how much the image owner cares. For example, if you’ve taken an image of Mickey Mouse and are selling your book by putting Mickey Mouse on it, you can fully, 100% expect to have Disney come pound on your door. If you make an adult-themed novel with Mickey Mouse on the cover and are giving it away, expect Disney to get you a lawsuit forthwith. But if you’re just putting an animated logo from Disney on your blog, you’re okay!
What’s the difference? A) You’re not making money off of it, B) it’s very clear you aren’t claiming you own any part of the logo, and C) the nature of blogs is transient and you’re unlikely to get a lot of attention or be a worthy target.
If you’re not sure if something is okay to post, there are two things you can do:
- Ask someone for permission first. This is particularly important with anything physical and permanent that you hope you make any kind of money on. That includes any images, portions of a song or poem, lines from a famous story, etc. It’s possible a short amount of text will be covered under the “Fair Use” doctrine, but it’s vague and a little hard to define and you probably just would be better not dealing with a lawsuit. Ask for permission first.
- Cite your sources. Come on, I know you know how to do this. Everyone had to write some kind of formal paper in school at some point or another. But when the internet came along and we had this endless list of images right at our fingertips, it got easier and easier to just copy something you found randomly.
That’s my main point. If you want to use an image or a paragraph or two from something you liked in your blog (something you give away for free and that is transient by nature), cite your sources. The prime way is to just…link back to the original. A link, in terms of Search Engine Optimization (or SEO), is one of the top ways a site develops a positive reputation in the search engines. When you link to a source for something cool, you’re signaling to Google & co that that place has good material. That helps them and you won’t get in trouble for stealing content.
See? It’s easy.
A little extra advice: really common things, like viral memes (like my dramatic gopher up there) probably have the original source buried in time. They just get picked up and run with. You’re okay on that. For similar reasons, you’re probably also okay on any TV or movie gifs or images you use on a blog. Just don’t try to sell them or you will be in trouble. If you find a cool image, photo, or illustration from something more niche, definitely cite your sources. Try to avoid finding images at “free” stock image places that look disreputable or from a forum–odds are good that they were stolen from somewhere else, and you’re the one who could be caught holding the bag. If you’re really worried about it, just take your own photos or sign up for a stock image site for your image needs. It’s better than a DMCA notice or a cease and desist letter, for sure.