Three Quick Guidelines for Image Reuse

Rules for image reuse

I used to be fuzzy on the rules for using photos and images online. But fuzziness can be annoying. Isn’t it quicker and easier to have a few simple guidelines to follow?

Let’s keep it simple:

  1. You create it, you own it. No matter how simple the graphic is, if you create something or photograph something and use it publically online, it is still yours. Technically, unless you have licensed it for open use, no one else can use it without permission. The same goes for every other image on the internet.
  1. Unless you are paying for them, images need to be both “royalty-free” and “free for commercial use.” In theory, if you don’t make money from your blog, you could risk skipping the “free for commercial use” part… but I personally wouldn’t recommend it. For example, I take on freelance projects and my clients often review my blog when they are thinking about hiring me. So it is supporting my business even if I am not currently earning from it directly. Rather than think too hard about it, I try to use only “royalty-free” and “free for commercial use” images.

NOTE: There are 8 million different apps that allow you to lay text over an image these days. Technically that is “modifying” the image, so the usage rights must allow you to do that. Better safe than sorry, even just for a cute tweet!

Some creators will allow their images to be used with attribution (often images from other blogs, etc). In that case, blogger and designer Tiffany Staples recommends the following format:

Directly under the photo, you will place the following:
1. Title of Photo
2. Link to Original Photo Location Online (The photo title can be used as your anchor text with this link accompanying it.)
3. Author of Photo Link (Link to the Author or “About Me” Page)
4. License (This can be a little hard to find, but if you are using a site that states Creative Commons, you can state “CC” and then place the # of the stipulation next to it.)

  1. If you mistakenly use someone else’s image and they ask you to take it down, do it IMMEDIATELY. If you comply immediately with their request then you will save everyone a lot of headaches, time, and potential court costs. Personally, I have never seen things go beyond level of conflict, unless someone truly and obviously violated a copyright (like this local grocery store chain did in Chicago). However, I have read just a few horror stories online – enough to scare me into proactively being really careful.

The good news is that there are plenty of places to find safe images, licensed properly for you to use in blog posts, tweets, and for other online purposes.

  • Google Images – Once you have started your search, go to Search Tools > Usage Rights to select the rights you need. You will want to double check the source of the image you choose.
  • – Love this site. Quick, easy, and I think their selection is pretty decent.
  • Wikimedia Commons – just make sure you read the usage rights for each image you find and abide by those rules

And remember – you can always take your own photos or create your own images!

Looking to learn more? Sources for this post include:

I am not a lawyer and this post in no way constitutes legal advice. Just some friendly suggestions for simplifying the whole “safe for reuse” image thing 🙂


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