Do you have the rights to that photo you’re posting?

antique cameraWhen’s the last time you posted a photo to your Facebook page? If you’re like many Facebook users, it may have been just a few minutes ago.

It turns out we’re uploading images on social media at mind-boggling rates. A few years ago, Facebook revealed that its users were uploading 350 million photos per day!

Facebook users collectively have uploaded over 250 billion photos, an average of 217 photos per account. In 2014, Snapchat reported 800 million snaps per day and over 1 billion Snapchat “stories” (video and photos that last 24 hours).

That’s well over a billion images flying onto the Internet every day! And that doesn’t even count Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn and others.

Where do they all these photos come from? Most are pictures we take ourselves; but for companies and small business owners interested in creating a professional image on a budget, they are increasingly coming from stock photo sites. Stock photography has grown into a multi-billion dollar business with millions of low-cost, high quality images available for purchase or free downloading from hundreds of online, searchable databases.

In the early days of stock photography, editors, advertising agencies and designers had to manually sort through printed images to choose the photos they wanted. With the advent of digital photography, you could view photos on CDs; then, in the early 1990s, the first online, searchable stock photo libraries were introduced.

Nowadays, anyone can view screen after screen of downloadable images on just about any topic. But ease of use has become both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it is so easy to grab digital images, and there are so many to choose from. It’s a curse because most people don’t understand the basics of photo usage and can get into trouble for using images they don’t own.

You might find hundreds of images you like from a simple Google image search, but that doesn’t mean you have a right to use them. Time and again, I see bloggers and small business owners using photography that isn’t theirs. “I got it off the Internet” seems to be the common refrain.

I spend a fair amount of time looking for images, sometimes for clients but often for this blog. For The Wayward Journey, I use at least one image per post. I generally don’t pay for those images, and you don’t have to either—if you follow the rules.

Keep in mind that original images are always the best. These are photos that you take yourself, so there is never any question about ownership and whether you have a right to use them (except as noted below under “permissions”). If you’re handy with a camera, I encourage you to take at least some of your own photographs.

The problem is that we’re not all good photographers, or we don’t always have the time to shoot images to meet the varied needs of our clients or blog. So the next best thing, if budget is a concern, is to find photos that we can use for free or for very little money.

You can Google “free stock photos” and find plenty of free photo sites. This article from Inc. has a list of the better-known ones to get you started. Photos you see on Wikipedia come from Wikimedia Commons, a good place to find historical photos such as pictures of famous people. Be prepared to spend quite a bit of time searching for photos on these free sites because the selection and quality are hit or miss.

Finding a good photo is only the first step. Then there is the bewildering task of understanding all of the rights and restrictions attached to photos. Here are some considerations:

  • Royalty-free. People are often confused by the terms “free” and “royalty-free.” A royalty-free image is not necessarily a free image. It simply means that once you’ve acquired it (perhaps paid a small licensing fee), you do not have to pay the owner any additional fees. However, you still have to follow the rules regarding its use!
  • Rights to the image. Most images, unless they are in the public domain, have restrictions on their use. Rarely will a photographer give up all rights to a photo. Always check to see if commercial use is allowed and under what circumstances. Most sites have a separate licensing/terms of agreement page. Take the time to read it!
  • Photo credits. Some photos must be credited, which usually means giving the name of the photographer and a link to the photo website. Check to see if attribution is required.
  • Permissions. You may need to get permission from the people who appear in a photo if it is for commercial use. Most stock photo houses have already secured these releases and will tell you that. Trademarked items and works of art are also protected and may require permission from the owner if they appear in the photo.

You may be thinking, what could possibly happen if I use a photo I found on Google in my blog? Actually, many stock photo companies have gotten quite aggressive in protecting their images. Some are notorious for going after small business people, even churches and nonprofits groups, if they discover their images are being used without permission. They may demand payments that are much higher than the value of the photos and threaten legal action. With so many avenues for acquiring photos legitimately, why take that chance?

Photos add a whole new dimension to your social media posts and can increase visits to your pages and website. Take the time to select good images and to understand the restrictions on their use.

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