You want your website to be pretty, sleek, and eye-catching. That means images, and lots of them! Most WordPress themes work best with a big, attractive featured image attached to each post, and adding images to posts makes sharing them on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest so much easier.
But are you using safe, legal images on your site? The kind that won’t get you sued?
Here’s What’s Not Safe
Recently, in a group I’m in on Facebook, a small business owner posted that she’d received a letter asking her to pay several hundred dollars in licensing fees for an image she’d used on her blog. She’d taken it from another website and provided a link back to that site as a photo credit. She wanted to know if the claim was legit.
Sadly – yes, it was.
You cannot just take any image you find on the internet and use it on your own website. Providing credit to the original source is not the same as getting permission or licensing the image. Embedding the photo from their source, and not hosting it on your site, is actually even worse – it’s almost like outright stealing.
Also, removing the image immediately upon getting a notice does not get you out of paying. Claiming you had no knowledge of the law does not get you out of paying. EEK.
So to sum up: NEVER USE AN IMAGE YOU FOUND FROM GOOGLING.
Never use an image you saw on someone else’s site that looks pretty – it may belong to them outright or they may have paid to license it. Never grab an image from a news site or an online magazine and assume it’s public domain. This rule also applies to things like charts, infographics, clip art, comics, and anything else visual.
And hopefully this goes without saying – never use a watermarked image (an image with a faint overlay of a logo or company name).
So, What Is Safe?
Your Own Photos
It’s always safe to use a photo you took – even if it’s a photo of something famous, like a painting, or a photo of strangers (legally speaking, you can take a photo of any person in a public space without their permission).
If you’re using your own pictures, you might want to watermark them – you’ll need some image processing software to overlay a small logo or blog name in the corner of the image.
Stock Image Sites
If you can’t use your own photo, your safest bet is to pay to license an image. Image license fees can range anywhere from a few dollars up to the thousands, so choose carefully!
Magazines looking for unique, high resolution images on a very specific subject are likely to go fishing at Getty Images, the best of the best – but also probably way out of your price range. Some better discount places to look include:
iStockPhoto (I believe this is Getty’s discount brand – it’s significantly less than their flagship brand!)
Big Stock Photo
If you find an image you’d like to use, then you’ll need to create an account on the site and purchase credits – most sites only sell credits in specific amounts as a package so you might end up with more credits than you need (bonus: more images!). Then, you can select the image you want and download it.
Usually, using an image from one of these sites is royalty free – that means that after you’ve paid once, you’re free to use it in a variety of situations, like your website, your Twitter and Facebook headers, or even print material like posters and pamphlets.
But beware – if you are going to put the image on anything you are SELLING, like branded swag, you will definitely need a bigger, more expensive license for that.
Completely Free Stock Images
There are many sites on the internet claiming to offer free stock images – some are legit, some aren’t. But the ones that are above board actually do offer beautiful, big images on a variety of themes that are, indeed, completely free for you to use in any scenario – on a website, on a social media page, or even in print. You’re even free to add text or modify the image as needed.
The major drawback here is that there’s limited selection, and as such, you’ll see these same images all over the web. They’re not the best choice if you’re looking for something unique to tie to your brand, but if you just want something to highlight a blog post, go for it!
Here’s the best of the best:
Travel Coffee Book
Creative Commons Sites
Still can’t find what you need? You can try a Creative Commons site. Creative Commons is a set of licenses for images in which the photographer can mark their image with a level of licensing. Some are completely free and open; some let you do what you want with the image, but you must credit the photographer; some don’t let you edit or change the image at all and the photographer must be credited.
Anyone uploading their images to Flickr can mark it with a Creative Commons license and you can search by the type of license on the Flickr Creative Commons Site. If you select an image that requires credit, be sure to include it! You’ll want to add a caption to your image (you can do this in WordPress when inserting the image using the Media Gallery) that names the photographer and, ideally, links back to his Flickr page.
Wikipedia also has a large Creative Commons area – you can search it here – and again, you can use most images but must provide credit to Wikimedia.
Getting Permission from the Owner
If there’s something unique you really, really want to share – an infographic or a chart, for example – then ask! If you’ve found it on someone else’s site, write to them if contact information is posted, and ask if you can use it on your own site, with credit given.
This can be tricky – you need to be sure that the person you’re contacting is the actual owner/creator, and has full authority to give you permission to use it. But if you know that you’re talking the right person, and they say yes, get it in writing (email is okay), and then go ahead and post it, with credit. File the email away for future reference.
Happy safe image searching!