How to Use Photos on Your Website Without Getting into Legal Trouble

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Avoid getting into legal troubles for using copyrighted photos

We all know the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. In that case, two pictures in an article on your website must be worth 2,000 words. Right?

Not necessarily. On social media, a photo is generally worth a certain number of likes, tweets, pins, stumbles, or shares. It might be worth only a few likes or maybe a few hundred or even a few thousand.

Yes, using images on your website is a top priority if you want readers to enjoy your site.

You can be sure that if you don't use images on your site, traffic will be low. Today's best writing techniques involve writing stories to get your readers involved in your post. And there is no better way to express the feeling in a story than with captivating images.

Suggested reading: Increase Sales: How to Use Storytelling on Your Business Website

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Who Owns Online Photos?

You probably know that photos are copyrighted and legally belong to the photographer. Copyright is automatic – the photographer does not have to file special paperwork for his photos to be copyrighted.

When you find the perfect photo, you do not have the right to use it – even if you give credit to the photographer. If you do, you are taking a huge risk and can be taken to court and forced to pay a pretty hefty fine.

What About 'Fair Use'?

'Fair use' circumvents the photographer's copyright by allowing 'limited and reasonable' use of a photo by someone who is not the photographer. But determining whether your use of a photo qualifies for 'fair use' can be daunting. It's better to avoid walking the very thin line that balances the photographer's rights with the public interest.

How, then, can you find images to use and still avoid a legal battle? The first step is to ask the photographer for permission. You might be pleasantly surprised. Some photographers would like to become better known and might give you permission as long as you credit him by name.

Your request should include –
  • a link to the photo that you want to use
  • a link to the website (or even better: the specific page or post) where you want to use the photo
  • information about whether your use is commercial, non-commercial, academic, educational
  • how you plan to use the image – as is or with some changes
  • a question about how to give credit to the photographer
 Use stock photos legally without crediting the photographer

The Easy Way: Buy Stock Photos

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find out who the photographer of a particular photo is. So more often, you would go to a stock photo site and buy a photo in order to obtain the copyright license.

There are many stock photo sites that have thousands upon thousands of images for sale. You search according to the topic of the photos you need for your article.

The problem is that it can be very expensive to buy two or three stock images for each article that you publish on your website or blog. Stock photo sites often do not allow individual purchases. Instead, they require you to buy a subscription. For example, BigStock subscription prices look like this –
  • 5 images/day or 150 images/month for $79/month - $0.53/image
  • 10 images/day or 300 images/month for $99/month - $0.33/image
  • 50 images/month with no daily limit for $79/month - $1.58/image
One of the major problems with the first two plans that have a less expensive price per image is that you have to download either five or ten each day in order to get the maximum number allowed per month. If you miss downloading five images today, they expire – they don't roll over to tomorrow.

The third plan is more flexible, but images are more expensive.

DepositPhotos is another stock photo site but is less expensive. They do not have as huge a selection as BigStock, but still, with millions of images, you can probably find what you want.

The best thing about DepositPhotos is that a couple of times a year, they have a special sale via AppSumo, who acts like their agent. The last time, the deal included 100 images for $39 that never expire.

If you sign up for a free account at AppSumo, you'll receive email announcements about special deals. When you find out about the special for DepositPhotos, you need to buy it very quickly because it always sells out.

Suggested reading: How to Make Your Website More Attractive

Use Public Domain or Royalty Free Images

There are millions and millions of high-quality photos you can use without worry. Just because they're free does not mean that they are low quality. They are merely photos whose copyright has expired or never even existed for some reason.

Do a Google search for 'public domain image + topic' or 'royalty free image + topic.' In other words, if you want some public domain photos of dogs, Google 'public domain image dog' or 'royalty free image dog,' and you will find plenty of choices.

Use creative commons (CC) pictures on your website

The Cheaper Way: Creative Commons

There are free stock photo sites like Pixabay and Pexels that have images free of copyrights. According to information on Pixabay's FAQ page, "All pictures are released under Creative Commons CC0 into the public domain."

Or you can go directly to Creative Commons search page to look for images that you don't have to pay for.

It's Just Not Worth the Risk

There is no need to risk a lawsuit over using a copyrighted image. You can see that there are plenty of inexpensive or free ways to find high-quality images to use on your website. Be sure to include images on your website, but do it the right way.

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Author: Kate Benzin

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