I received this in my inbox this morning, and thought it was too good a question not to share with the wider group. It touches on a couple of my interests, copyright and cat pictures, (who doesn’t love cat pictures?)… This from Claudia, a client and friend who uses social media and her blog beautifully to interact with the clients of her cattery business Aylesham Cattery.
I read a troubling article about a blogger that got sued for breach of copyright in the US.A photographer got in contact with her and even if she took down the pic immediately, he asked her for a big sum and she had to go to court. She used a pic and she linked it to its source. Do you think I could get in trouble for what I do in our blog?
Essentially… this question “Can I get sued for using images on my blog?” is an excellent one. It’s something that comes up regularly in training classes too, so let’s have a look at some options.
To give real clarity to the answer I did a little research to find instances where people had been on the receiving end of legal action and found a couple of interesting (and rather scary) links. The first is a bare assessment of the risks, the second is the article that sparked this conversation…
I’ll make a disclaimer here too that I’m not a lawyer; my thoughts are exactly that, and they amount to how I’ve used images on this and other blogs I’ve contribute to since 2004… they and should not be taken as prescriptive legal advice! If in doubt consult your lawyer, and also, do what Darren Rowse at Problogger suggests here in his 6 Laws Every Blogger Needs to Obey so they Don’t Get Sued.
The whole area is a challenging one, and realistically, this site and sites like Claudia’s are probably a low risk… but it just takes one person to take action against you and you could find yourself in quite the pickle. Furthermore, there are actually people who put pictures out there to bait bloggers and then sting them with a lawsuit… Call it the media version of a patent troll… sad, but true.
So… what’s a blogger to do?
Fortunately, there are structures in place for people to make their pictures available for bloggers and other publishers under what’s called Creative Commons license. This way they provide tacit permission to use images within a couple of simple boundaries. Boundaries such as giving attribution to the owner of the work, and respecting any restrictions that the owner has placed on the publishing of their photo. Generally those restrictions apply to commercial use of the photo, and/or remix/reuse of the photo (or work).
Because Creative Commons has become so well… common these days, sites like Flickr and Google Images have begun to make it possible to search images and filter their results according to such licensing… let me show you what I mean on Flickr…
This first image shows the page of results when I search for ‘kitties’ in the normal search tool.
Because I’m looking for content I can reuse, I’m going to select the Advanced Search option, scroll down the page to select Only Search Creative Commons licensed content…and then select the kind of content I want to find.
Hit Search and here’s what I got returned
So long as I provide attribution to the image owner/author I can use these pictures on my blog. If my site is commercial, and I guess, to all intents and purposes, Claudia’s blog is commercial as it’s on her business website, then selecting the filter to allow for commercial use would be the order of the day.
Google Image search provides the same filtering capability… tucked away under their Search Tools button.
I would like to make one note… there is nothing to stop someone who has previously made a photo available for reuse, from changing their licensing and revoking that license in the future. While I’ve not had this experience, I would suggest if you’re going to use flickr and commons license photos maybe it’s still a good idea to get permission anyway, or to send a quick note via the image comments to the owner thanking them for making their content available under such licenses and posting a link to your post. That way you have documented conversation that at the time of putting up the images you were in good faith the use was valid.
Where else can you go?
Here are a couple of other places to look for pictures
http://photopin.com/ – Free photos for your blog, and a lot of them are gorgeous!!
The Creative Commons Search – this is great a search engine that returns media content labelled for reuse… in this case, led me to <http://pixababy.com”>Pixababy… and the following page of feline delights
Finally, if you’re putting images on a commercial site and you’re looking for photography for commercial use, and none of the commons stuff seems to be what you’re looking for, you might need to consider stock photography…
Start with Stock Xchange at http://sxc.hu/ – their photos are free… you could then try Istock Photo at http://www.istockphoto.com/, Deposit Photos http://depositphotos.com/ or Bigstock Photo at http://www.bigstockphoto.com/.
Now, to look a little more closely at how Claudia uses images on her blog, and to answer her question a little more specifically… let’s look at her latest post …
It’s customary for Claudia to open with a list of which of her guests are being featured this week and follow up with a link to another feline interest story from elsewhere on the web. Today she’s featuring the story of Book Buddies from the Berks County Animal Rescue and their beautiful feature image of a lovely Marmalde puss enjoying a story. Further down the page is an amusing Valentine’s Day link and image and further still pictures, taken by Claudia of her current cattery guests.
Let’s start with the image of the little boy and the marmalade (presumably) tom. Based on what I’ve read from the original owners of of the content over here http://www.berksarl.org/programs/book-buddies they’re utterly delighted at all the attention they are getting, listing all the places they’ve found their site linked from as the story went viral. Again, they don’t look like they’re going to come after Claudia for posting a link and a lovely photo.
But here’s the kicker… do we know that Berks own the photo? They haven’t credited it.. and while if they had, I’m sure Claudia would have credited it too, there is a small risk that if Berks were using a sketchily obtained photo, Claudia would be as at risk as they are.
So what are you to do if you’re posting this kind of content? Well, to be utterly safe, I would ping the original owner of the site and ask for permission. As an amateur photographer, this has happened to me on numerous occasions with photos I’ve taken and made available on Flickr… I always say yes… and I’d imagine 99% of the time the people you’re asking will say the same.
Secondly, these amusing Valentine’s cards via Buzzfeed are basically going viral, and being posted all over the net… and probably getting some action on Pinterest and the like, as well. I don’t think Claudia is at risk, the artist posted them on Buzzfeed for this kind of exposure anyway. One assumes Buzzfeed is reposting them for this very reason… to make them go viral and generate links and traffic back to their site… However, if it came down to a court battle… that wouldn’t hold up as a defence for Claudia, they’re on her blog… even though there’s a link back to Buzzfeed.
In this case, I’d probably put a note of the artist’s name – the artist themselves put them on the social news site… I think it’s tacit approval for reposting. Again, as for the first story, you could ask permission, though for a site as large as Buzzfeed… you’d probably be waiting a while for a reply… out of curiosity I went looking for their policy on linking back to them and republishing their material and couldn’t find a thing… so, add in the artist’s name (Jen Lewis)… and we’ll call it even.
Finally… Claudia’s own pictures.
Of course, Claudia is well within her rights to post pictures she’s taken herself, so she’s at no risk of a lawsuit for using her own pictures. So, yay! I am, however, presuming her guests’ parents/owners have given permission for pictures to be used… Claudia, do you have model releases for these pusses? Furthermore are you completely sure none of them are in the Kitness Protection Program?
Basically, I think she’s fine on this front.
Thanks for asking Claudia, I hope this is helpful information… As always… have at it in the comments… if you’re trainers teaching students about blogging and site ownership… is this the kind of information you give out? If you’re a blogger, where do you get your pictures? And if you’re buying commercial pix, where do you go?