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Including images on your legal blog can make it look more aesthetically pleasing to readers, even though doing so does not affect SEO. However, it is important to be mindful of the copyright status of any photos that you find on the Internet. Follow these basic tips to avoid being liable to a copyright holder for using a photo without the proper permission. This post is meant for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions about the copyright status of an image on your blog, you should consult with an intellectual property attorney.
As we have emphasized numerous times on this blog, having high-quality content on your law firm website and blog is crucial for effective Internet marketing. Less important for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes, but still important for your human audiences, is having nice photos and graphics to accompany your content. However, finding good photos to accompany your website and blog content can be a challenge in itself.
In particular, lawyers who write frequent blog posts often lament the need to find relevant, appropriate, aesthetically pleasing photos to accompany their posts. In an act of desperation (or in some cases, because they don’t know any better), some legal bloggers use less-than-ideal sources for the images for their blog posts. While this strategy might seem attractive because there are significantly more images to choose from, it is unwise at best, and illegal at worst.
If you are careless about where you get the photos for your blog, you may inadvertently violate copyright laws and make yourself subject to hefty fees, lawsuits, or both. Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting into trouble using images on your blog.
1. Obtain royalty-free images from reputable sources.
There are many websites that purport to have free or royalty-free images for use on the Internet. However, many of these websites do not go far enough in checking whether photos are actually free or whether the users who upload them and purport to own the rights actually do.
For example, Google Image Search allows users to conduct an Advanced Search and filter by license. The options include:
- Labeled for reuse with modification
- Labeled for reuse
- Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification
- Labeled for noncommercial reuse
While this might seem like an easy way to find images that are free to use, there is nothing to keep users from uploading copyrighted images that have been relabeled for reuse. Similarly, Wikimedia Commons may seem like an attractive source of free, high-quality photos, but its disclaimer states, “Wikimedia Commons can not grant any rights to use any otherwise protected materials. Your use of any such or similar incorporeal property is at your own risk.” In other words, just because a photo appears on that site does not mean that you can use it on your blog.
For example, this photo is a screen capture of a CNN program, and the Flickr user has indicated that the photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license. However, screenshots from audiovisual works (such as films, television broadcasts, video clips) are almost always the property of its producer or creator (as a derivative work), not the person who captured the screenshot.
Importantly, “royalty-free” does not mean “free”; rather, it means that the image is not “rights-managed.” Getty Images, Corbis Images, and AP Images are some of the most popular sources of photos, and many of the photos they sell are rights managed, which typically means that a user may purchase a license to use a photo once, in a manner specified by the license (often time limited).
While we make no guarantees or assertions as to the copyright status of these images, here are some sources we recommend for free and royalty-free images for your legal blog:
2. Do a “background search” on any image before using it.
There are various tools that you can use to see where else an image appears on the Internet, known as a reverse image search (because you are searching by an image, rather than for an image). While searches like these often don’t give you much helpful information (since many people might be using certain free or royalty-free images on their websites and blogs), sometimes a search like this can alert you to the image’s copyright status.
Here are a few resources for doing a reverse image search:
- Google Image Search – You can drag and drop an image to Google Image Search to do a reverse search.
- TinEye – Perhaps the best reverse image search out there.
3. Take your own photos.
One surefire way to ensure that your use of photos is in compliance with copyright laws is to simply take your own photos so that you own the copyright to them. Of course, this carries with it its own set of challenges—you’ll need to keep model releases and obey any applicable privacy laws—but it does address the ownership issue.
You don’t even need an expensive camera to take your own photos; many smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras are capable of taking photographs that are high enough resolution for use on websites and blogs. Plus, this adds the additional bonus that you can be sure that your photos are unique.
Be aware that some photographs—even those you take yourself—may have implications under trademark law. If you have questions about whether your photograph infringes on the intellectual property of another person or entity, you should consult an attorney knowledgeable in IP law before using it.
Although images don’t help the search engine optimization of your legal blog or website, they can make it much more pleasing for the human reader. When selecting an image to use, don’t spend too much time trying to find the “perfect” image, but you definitely should do your due diligence to ensure that you have the right to use the image you ultimately select.
One final consideration that we discuss in another blog post is that in some jurisdictions, there are restrictions on lawyers’ use of actors to portray clients. Be sure that your use of images does not run afoul of any the rules of ethics or professional responsibility that apply to your website or blog.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Justia Inc. or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.