Using an image in a blog post can add interest to your page and increase reader engagement. Because of that, most bloggers and web site owners will do a quick Google Image search for an appropriate photo and, if they’re smart, they’ll make sure they search for an image that’s marked “free to use, even commercially.” Unfortunately, that may no longer be enough. It’s imperative that you ensure that you have the rights to all images that are being used on your law firm website. If you use a copyrighted image either accidentally or intentionally without the proper permissions, you could find yourself facing demands for financial compensation.
Rights-Managed vs. Royalty-Free
There are two main types of stock images: rights-managed and royalty-free. Rights-managed images have licenses that place certain restrictions, such as the length of time, geographical region, medium, or industry the image may be used for. Royalty-free images do not have any such restrictions. Upon payment of the license fee, you’re generally allowed to use the image on any material for an unlimited length of time.
Royalty-free Means Free, Right?
Sorry, but no. A license fee must still be paid for royalty-free images. However, once that initial fee is paid, the image can be used for an unlimited amount of time without additional royalties being due. The cost is usually based on the size of the image file and how you intend to use the image.
All photos and other images, whether rights-managed or royalty-free, are automatically protected by copyright from the moment they are created, so before you embed that great image into your blog post, you’ll want to be sure you have the proper license to do so.
There are some reliable stock photo websites out there- including many free sites- where you can access images to be used on your blogs. Unfortunately, one very popular website used to find free stock images actually had some copyrighted photos that were made available improperly, which caused many innocent web users to accidentally put copyright protected images on their blogs.
Creative Commons Images Found to be Protected
Flickr is one of the most common sources of free stock photos because many of the images are licensed under Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that offers copyright licenses to photographers and other artists, enabling them to easily share their creative works. Web users search Flickr for photos licensed under Creative Commons and those images can be used for blog posts and web pages with the proper attribution.
Unfortunately, some of the photos uploaded to Flickr have been found to be from stock photography websites and are actually protected under copyright law. New fingerprinting technology has enabled copyright owners to track their images and identify unlicensed usage. Some copyright holders are aggressively taking legal action against anyone displaying this material, however innocently. If you have a website and you’ve used pictures on it, you could find yourself getting a letter in the mail ordering you to pay up.
What Does this Mean for Your Law Firm Website?
Even if you had third-party designers, developers, or writers provide images for your website or blog, you are ultimately responsible for what appears on your site and may therefore be liable for any copyright infringement. If you’re not positive that you have the correct licenses for all of the images on your site, you should review all of the content on your site, as we’ve done here at the Academy. Ask your SEO or web management company to identify and immediately remove any images they believe are protected under copyright law.
If you’re unsure of whether an image is being used properly, you may want to conduct a Google Search by Image. Upload the image in question and search to see what sites it appears on. If it’s found on Getty Images, Shutterstock, or any of the other stock image sites, do not use it unless you can produce the license or proof of purchase.
We’ve directed our writers to immediately stop using Creative Commons, Flickr, and Google Images and to only use primary images sources. You should consider doing the same to protect yourself against future problems.
Suggested Image Sources
There are many good sources available for free or inexpensive stock images, including:
Also keep in mind that some of the most engaging images are not stock photos at all. Real pictures of your staff, office, and clients will give your website an authenticity that no slick photo ever could. In fact, eye tracking studies have shown that website visitors pay more attention to photos of real people and ignore fluffy pictures used to decorate web pages. Just make sure you obtain a photo release for anyone you’ll be featuring on your site.
US Copyright laws are certainly lagging behind the fast-paced world of the Internet but they still control how a copyrighted work can be used. If you have photos on your site that have been licensed through Creative Commons, now may be a good time to check and ensure that those pictures are actually free to use- before you get a letter in the mail asking for payment. It’s also a good time to implement a policy for obtaining and publishing future images.
SEO and Social Media Manager
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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