Honoring Copyright: The Legal Way to Use Photography On Your Hospital Blog

flickr: MikeBlogs

Today is Friday the Thirteenth and because today is known for bad luck, I thought I’d focus on how to avoid getting into copyright infringement trouble by using unauthorized photos on your blog.

I once had a client tell me she thought it was perfectly fine to take any photo she found on Google and use it in her blog. And while there are many websites that seem to allow the use of photography and graphics for free, it’s not that simple.

Companies and individuals protect their artwork via a copyright, and penalties for violating a copyright range from paying a fine to serving jail time.

Unfortunately, when you find an image on a website, the terms of use aren’t always clear, and it’s nearly impossible to tell the original source of that photo, making the use of that great photo you just found risky.

But you don’t have to eliminate photography from your blog due to fear. All you have to do is learn where you can find photos to use and then how to properly attribute them.

Free online images


Images found through search engines such as Google can be risky because websites don’t have to list copyright information for images, and they don’t often list the original source of the photo. Because of this, it is easy to violate copyright infringement, and a simple answer of “but I didn’t know” won’t protect you.

Luckily, there’s hope through a website called Flickr, an online collection of photos taken by both amateur and professional photographers. And within Flickr is a great community called “Creative Commons.” The photos in this category are available for public use, making it easy to find photos to use in your blog.

Photos are grouped based on the use their author allows, and fall under one of six categories. While all of the categories allow you various levels of customization, under all of them you are able to simply use the photo and then credit the author in the caption through an “Attribution License,” which says users can copy, distribute and display your copyrighted work as long as you give them credit (see the photo caption for this blog as an example).

Stock photography


If you can’t find the photo you want on Creative Commons, you can purchase stock photography from a number of websites. Using stock photography is an easy way to make sure you are not violating copyright, but there are drawbacks to using them. First, they cost money. You can pay anywhere from $5 to $50 and much more for stock photography, increasing the cost of running your blog. Second, they people in them are usually too posed and boring, and often don’t feel like “real” people. However, that being said, they can be extremely useful when you are in a pinch and can’t find a free photo to use. Typically when you purchase a photo from a company like iStockPhoto or Getty Images, you are not required to credit the photographer.

Your own photos

But wait! There is a third, offline option to consider: Using your own photos. I see many bloggers use this approach, and it’s a great one. Personal photos, as long as they are appropriate and you have the permission of anyone in them, are an effective way to personalize a blog post. Seattle Mama Doc often uses her own personal photos (as well as a mix of what appear to be stock photos), which not only authenticates her blog, but is also free of copyright infringement dangers.

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