Do not be the one to get sued over photos on your blog!
I had to come out of my writing cave for this one. Most people know this already, but I wanted to take this chance to warn those who might not be aware they are violating copyrights by posting random photos from the internet. Even if you find it on Google images or through any other method, you MUST obtain permission to post it on your own blog/website. Assume all photos are copyright protected. It only takes one angry photographer searching the net to see where his/her photos have been illegally posted for you to be in trouble.
Some of you may have caught this as it made its rounds through Twitter and other blogs yesterday, but I wanted to fill in the gap of anyone who hasn’t. Author Roni Loren was sued for using a photo on her blog she found through Google images. She did, in fact, have to hire a lawyer to handle it and settled out of court to avoid further fees, but it still cost her way more than she could afford. Most of the authors on this blog know how little money you make (whether you are trad or indie) so this was a difficult experience for her. She immediately took the photo down when the artist contacted her and apologized to him, but that wasn’t enough because soon thereafter he went after her in a lawsuit. You can read the full details here. I feel awful for her because it was an innocent mistake some people make. Should she have known better, being an artist herself? Sure, but she hadn’t truly meant to harm anyone.
On the flip side, authors know how upset they get when their books are copied and distributed without their permission. Photographers and artists feel the same way. Just because it seems innocent enough doesn’t mean you should take any random photo you find online and post it on your blog. Doesn’t matter how you got it. Someone put time and effort into producing it and may not appreciate numerous people using their work without permission.
I am thankful to say I was paranoid from the beginning when I started my blog and didn’t post random pics. In the beginning I used freedigitalphotos.net and downloaded free ones from there. The only thing is that you have to attribute the photographer in a very obvious place on or near the photo. Not long after, I started paying a $3 fee to get the picture so I didn’t have to attribute it but that got expensive. Later I switched to 123rf.com where I could get photos for a dollar each. With those, I usually still link them back to the site so people know where I got them from (maybe the photographer will even benefit from that). Anyone who has clicked on some of the pictures posted on my blog has probably already figured this out.
Some of you may think you have gotten away with using random pics so far without trouble, but it doesn’t mean it won’t come back to haunt you eventually. I have noticed people using Google for specific images and ending up on my blog. After they get here, they click on the photo. I suspect some of them may have been checking to see where I got it from. As of yet, no one has contacted me to complain but I’m ready for them if they do. I’ve kept every single receipt for all the photos I purchased and posted. Basically, I’ve covered myself and you should do the same.
Another thing to remember is that cheap price of a dollar (or three) is only good for using in blogs and small time stuff. If it will be used in any way that could lead to profit, you will probably have to pay a much higher price for expanded copyright permissions. An example would be book covers, though I am sure most of you knew that one. Whatever you do, read the terms when you pay for a photo so you can know exactly what you can and can’t do with it. Some will specify how many times you can copy/post it to various places/books/etc before you’ll need to pay more. They may even say how many times it can be “viewed” before you must pay more. It might seem like a hassle, but spending that time and money will cost you far less than a lawsuit.
Personally, I think if a person immediately takes the photo down and apologizes that should be enough. Suing a person who’d at least taken steps to rectify their mistake went a bit too far, but I’m not in charge of such things so that’s why I’m warning you. Please don’t be that guy/gal who gets caught. It’s not worth it.
Feel free to comment if you have your own take on this or have suggestions for good places where free/cheap photos can be found. I like paying for mine because I want to support photographers, but I know not everyone can afford it.