Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Photographers Own Copyrights, Too

Like the photo? You can travel to the Indiana-Illinois border at the southern end of Lake Michigan and take your own picture, but you can't use this one without my permission. That's because I own the copyright.

As many of you know, Hoosier Ink's new blog master has been busy updating the site and educating contributors on the most effective way to post entries. In that same spirit, I'm doing an extra blog post this month to educate contributors on the use of photographs in their posts. But others can benefit from the information, too.

Copyright law treats visual art the same way it treats the written word, and the copyright exists as soon as the image is recorded in tangible form. For photographs, that means the instant the picture is taken.

Just because an image is available on the Internet doesn't mean you have the right to use it any way you want. Copying it for your personal use, such as to give you an idea of what a character looks like, is okay, but if you disseminate the picture publicly, you have probably violated someone's copyright.

So what can you do if you want a picture to go with your blog post? Here are some suggestions.

  • Use a photo you took yourself. If you don't have anything on hand, be creative and "pose" a shot to fit the post. (Just don't pose it to duplicate someone else's photo.)
  • Get permission. This is easy if the photo was taken by a friend or relative, but harder if you don't know the photographer.
  • Find a reputable clip art or stock photo site that offers free images. (But royalty-free does not mean free.) Read the license/permission language on the site to make sure your use fits.
  • Pay a license fee. You probably don't want to do this just for a Hoosier Ink post. But if you already have a multiple-use or royalty-free license that allows you to use the picture on blogs you write for, it's an option.
  • Use photographs that are in the public domain. Finding out which ones are in the public domain takes more effort than most people want to put into a blog post, however. So unless you know the photograph was taken before 1923, this may not be an efficient choice.
Creativity is our business. If you can find a creative--and legal--way to add visual interest to your post, readers will appreciate it.

If not, copyright holders will appreciate your restraint.

Kathryn Page Camp


  1. I just saved a copy of this for my own future reference...
    Really good explanation..

  2. Finding decent free photos online can be easier than readers might assume. By Googling a word combination such as "free stock photos," you can find a variety of sources for FREE photos for personal or commercial use. However, be aware that some sites will require registration before you can download, and other results might still require $1 to download the full resolution version. But even that little charge costs less than the gasoline to drive to the local park to snap a picture of your own.

  3. Great post, Kathryn! I always use my own pictures on my blog. I put my name...or hubby's name underneath the photo. Should there be a statement on the blog? Thanks and great post.

  4. If you mean in the posting guidelines, I have just updated that to reflect an add clarification.

  5. What do you know about this:

  6. Loree, if you are using your own photos or your husband's photos (since I assume he has given you permission) on the blog, you don't need to include a copyright notice or to state "used by permission"--but you can if you want, and that may inform people who don't know better. If you are using someone else's photo with permission (including those from a stock photo site), you should give the person credit, say "used by permission," and include a copyright notice if the person asks you to. If you know the photo is in the public domain you don't need a copyright notice or a "used by permission" disclaimer but should credit the photographer or source if you know it.

  7. iStockphoto appears to be a "royalty free" site, which doesn't mean it is free. "Royalty free" means you pay a flat fee for a multi-use license rather than paying a royalty each time you use the photo.

  8. Hey Kathryn -- when you collect all your GREAT Hoosier Ink tips into a book, I'll be first in line to buy it! THANKS for yet again sharing your knowledge (that's so important for all of us) so succinctly (and for free). . . :-)

  9. I did add the labels "blogging" and "website design" to this post, just to remember where to find it. It needed, I could always add a label that was specifically for Hoosier Ink tips.