Can I Use that Picture?

Puppy with a rose hip
Puppy “Zenith” Can Help with Your Marketing

Good looking pictures make all the difference in your website, social media posts, and printed marketing materials.  Previous blog posts have talked about how sex sells and told you to load up on photographs of pretty women, babies, and pets.

But, you can’t just grab a photo of a Golden Globe winning actor from another web site and stick it on one of your pages as if the star was a raving fan of your business.

I am not a lawyer, so if you want specific legal advice, contact an attorney.  However, let me tell you the rules I follow when I create web pages and social media for my clients.

  • You must have the right to use the photograph — maybe you took the picture (you own it) or you bought a license to use the image from a photo service.
  • If the subject in the photograph is identifiable and if you’re using the photograph for commercial purposes (this includes beauty shots designed make your web site attractive), you must have a model release.  Either ask the subject to sign a release yourself, or make sure that the photo service you’re using gets releases from their models.
  • If you are using a picture to illustrate a news story, you do not need a release as long as the picture was taken in a public place where the subject doesn’t have an reasonable expectation of privacy.  This means you can use pictures you take of church members BBQing  in an article about the picnic without getting a release from each person in the crowd.  The photograph can include children, too.
  • Although you can use photos of recognizable people for editorial purposes, it’s my policy to remove pictures from the website/Facebook/wherever if the subject says they don’t want their picture published.

The rules as I understand them — see non-lawyer caveat above! — are pretty simple.  Use pictures you’ve taken or ones you have permission to use.  If you’re using the photo for a non-editorial purpose and a person is identifiable in a picture, get a model release from that person.

You cannot use any picture or graphic you find in a Google search, on Flickr, or anywhere else on the Internet, unless the photo is marked in some way that gives you explicit permission to use it. Flickr and possibly other photo sites encourage people to give permission to others to copy their works using Creative Commons licenses. But, most images are not tagged with permission, and by default a photograph is protected by copyright law and copying is not allowed.

Pictures that grab the attention of your potential clients are powerful components of your Internet marketing effort. If you have the pictures you want for your Internet campaign, great!  Use them! If you’re looking for more photographs, I take some darn good photographs (see examples — especially the puppy pictures).  I am happy to come over with my camera and take the pictures you want. Or, browse stock photos available for licensing on the service I like best, Dreamstime.

Just make sure you get pictures of puppy Zenith or something equally appealing on your Internet marketing materials now!

It's Not Stealing If They're Your Friends?

So, you find a really neat article on a topic that relates to your business and you want to share the find with your clients and visitors to your website.

Here’s a scenario I run into frequently with clients.

You’re not a thief, so you make sure that you give credit in the re-posting to the original author. You even link to the author’s page. You mark up the article a bit to emphasize what’s important to your clients, but the entire article — byline and all — is still there. You send the article to me to post to your website with some nice graphic.

I ask if you have permission from the author to copy their work.

You say that you’re acknowledging their authorship and that you’re just spreading their expertise and helping their reputation.

I ask if you have permission from the author to copy their work.

You ask if I can’t just put up the page. You’re sure no one will mind.

I ask you to confirm that you’re ready to indemnify me and to defend me at your cost for any copyright claims by third parties.

Let me confess that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television. However, I understand something about intellectual property rights and respect the right of creators to be able to determine where their work is shown.

By default, creative works, including Internet postings, are copyrighted by their creators and no one can use them without permission. The author or artist doesn’t have to do anything special to have copyright rights.

Permission to use someone’s work may be very easy to get. I have been emailed at least a couple of times by people wanting to copy an image on my personal website. The emails explained what the photos would used for and also told me that there would be a credit line but no money. I readily agreed to each request, flattered that someone liked my photography. I think my reaction is a typical one.

In the case of web article or blog entries a lot of authors would love to be considered an expert whose opinion is worth repeating. Re-posting their work with a link back to their website offers them exposure and a chance to sell their services.

Permission to copy is also sometimes granted on the website. Instead of saying nothing or “All Rights Reserved”, a copyright holder may choose to use a Creative Commons or other model copyright statement that specifies that people can re-use their work in some — or all — situations.

Copying from your friends (even those friends you’ve never met in person) expands the store of knowledge you can share with your clients. You look good for sharing valuable information. At the same time, the original author gains stature and potential clients for their own business.

Just make sure you say “Please” and get permission before you do the copying!