Adding images to your blog is a proven strategy for enhancing it, particular with a picture montage. Before you race off to add images, however, it is important to remember there are legal issues to consider.
An image is a copyrighted work whether it is a photo, graphic or cartoon. The person creating the image is automatically designated the copyright owner as a matter of law. As the copyright owner, this person is the only person who may copy and distribute the image with a few exceptions we will discuss later. Anyone who copies and distributes the image without the consent of the copyright owner can be sued for copyright infringement. Damages can be as high as $150,000 per image infringement.
Computers are set up to almost encourage copyright infringement. How so? You can run your cursor over an image, right click, save it to your hard drive and then republish it on your blog. The process is so simple, most people doing it never pause to consider the legal ramifications. This is unfortunate since this act almost always constitutes copyright infringement.
The fact you can copy an image online does not mean it is legal to do so. The images found in the Google image search engine and on other sites are almost always copyrighted. If you copy and republish them, you run a significant risk of being sued for copyright infringement.
A copyright owner can give permission to others to use a copyrighted image. As you might expect, this process involves the transfer of money from you to the copyright holder. To facilitate this, you can find available images on sites such as Fotolia, Shutterstock and iStockPhoto.
In certain situations, copyright holders may even give you the right to use their images without paying for them. This is typically done under a “creative commons” license.
When licensing images for your blog, it is absolutely critical you read the license to ascertain if there are any restrictions on the use. There often are. Examples of prohibited use can include:
The copyright holder controls the license, so don’t just assume your payment entitles you to do whatever you wish with the image. Read the license!
Fair use is a legal defense to a copyright infringement claim. The basic idea is there should be certain situations where copyright should not be used to restrict free speech and acts benefiting society as a whole. Classic fair use defenses include, but are not limited to:
In the case of images, you can only use the defense where the focus of the blog post is on the image. If you are talking about the economy and copy an image off the New York Times site of a bank, you are infringing on the copyright.
It is important to also note a procedural point. The fair use defense is asserted as a defense in a lawsuit. You might ultimately prevail in the lawsuit, but keep in mind the “win” will cost you $50,000 to $100,000 in legal fees and costs. The phrase “hollow victory” comes to mind in such situations.
Using images to bolster your blog is definitely a smart strategy. Just make sure you have the right to use the images from a copyright perspective.
Richard Chapo, Esq., is a San Diego internet lawyer providing legal services to bloggers through his blog at SoCalInternetLawyer.com. With 20 plus years of experience, he is both readily familiar with the issues bloggers face online as well as being as old as dirt.