image of boat on water with the quote: a picture is worth a thousand words

Last week I shared 20 sources to find free images for your blog. A picture really is worth a thousand words. Today, I’d like to talk about the importance of rights-usage and what that means to you, the smart blogger.

Step One: Never grab a random image and use it on your blog, or on Social, or anywhere for that matter. I am still surprised by how many people think that’s ok. It’s not. Danger Will Robinson

Opening yourself up to a potential law suit is never fun.

Many years ago, we were redesigning a client’s website and he wanted to use a specific image, so I asked him about the rights.

“Rights?” he asked in a surprised tone. “I just grabbed it off the Internet.” He had never thought about the fact that someone owns that image. Usually it’s the photographer, but not always. You must have written documentation that gives you rights to an image, and if you don’t? You risk liability.

Fast forward eight years and this same client, who knew better than to just use a random image, found himself liable for damages of $7,000. He thought he could use the image under Fair Use. He was commenting on and linking to an article in the New York Times, a common practice for us bloggers. He posted his commentary, the headline of the original article with a link to that article, AND the image from that article. Even though he was referencing the original article, he didn’t have the rights to use that image on his blog.

These days there are numerous sources for free, high-quality blog images

Even so, you still have to be diligent and check that the image you are using is in fact rights-free for your purpose, and further, does the copyright owner have a model release from every person featured in that image?

Step Two: Look for images that you can copy, modify, and distribute even for commercial purposes. Pay attention to whether or not they ask for attribution, and how they want to be attributed. Know that, in some cases, free sites like Foter and Visual Hunt are scrubbing the Internet and posting what they believe to be rights-free images, but, as aggregators, they don’t assume any liability—if you download an image from their site and it’s not actually a rights-free image, guess who’s  liable? You. Not the source. You must ensure that your image is in fact rights-free.

It’s ironic that authors, who are acutely aware of intellectual property, don’t think about images as a copyrighted property. If you use an image on your blog or in your book, even a snapshot taken by a friend, you need to ensure that the copyright owner has given you express, written permission. The fact is this: you could use it, and you might not get caught, but if you do, and it’s likely you will, you’ll be in the defensive position, which means that the burden and the liability lies with you. Play it safe, make smart choices and spend the time to find rights-free images. Protect yourself and your work—you’ll be glad you did.


Jeniffer Thompson administrator

Jeniffer Thompson is a publishing consultant and author branding expert. She is the Founder and Principal at Monkey C Media, a leading book services firm specializing in book design, author websites, and Internet marketing strategy. Jeniffer has more than 20 years experience in publishing and would love to help you navigate your publishing journey.