Copyright and ‘Fair Use’ in Blogging: Images

This is the first of a planned three-part series on the basics of copyright in blogging. Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and this post should not in any way be construed as legal advice. I have done my best to educate myself in an informal way on the issue of copyright, and share what I have learned with that understanding.

There’s no arguing with the fact that images add to blog posts. This post by blog critiquer Laura B. Writer  underlines the importance of using images or photos to both enhance the appearance of your blog and attract readers.

However, it’s not a matter of simply finding images on the internet, saving them to your computer, and putting them into your blog.

Most of those images you find so easily with any search engine are copyrighted, and are not necessarily free to use, easy though it seems to be to do so.

It’s not just a matter of finding images that don’t have watermarks, either. If you just use a thumbnail or portion of an image, with a link to the actual image, you might be able to claim “fair use” (see this discussion of copyright, intellectual property and fair use )

However, it is much better to use only images that are either from a Creative Commons site, are royalty-free, or for which you have purchased a license. I’ll talk about those three options separately, with links for illustration purposes. Note: for any of these instances, always check the terms and conditions of a website rather than making assumptions about how you may use their images.

Creative Commons – this is a concept that has grown up over the last several years as an attempt to address the issue of copyright when it comes to the internet in a fair and equitable manner for all. Some image creators license their work as Creative Commons, rather than calling their work copyright. In these cases, you are likely to be able to use their work freely, if you adhere to the terms and conditions. You are usually required to link back to the original source. Here is a more detailed discussion of Creative Commons.   One source for Creative Commons images is the Flickr Creative Commons. Note the list in the right sidebar of the varying rules for the different categories.

Another option is to find sites from which you can download legally. These fall into two broad categories, free and pay-for-licensed-use.

Free — I see everyone sit up straight to pay attention when that word is mentioned. Yes, free, if you adhere to the terms of use, linking back, citing the source, etc. Note that sometimes a site will have both free images and images that can only be obtained by paying for a license. Be sure you are clear about what you are able to use. Here are two examples. I don’t have firsthand experience with either of them, but what I read from their websites seemed to indicate that they are reliable. Freefoto  and Free Digital Photos

After you scroll down past a number of other resources, this link provides  an extensive list of sources of free images (note that you need to check the terms of each, because some looked “freer” than others to me).

Fee-based License – the one I have chosen to follow for the images I use on my blog, is the category of sites that allow a person to pay a small fee to ensure legal use of the images purchased. (Again, one must adhere to the terms and conditions.) Fotolia  sells credits in blocks, beginning with a block of 25 credits which cost about $1.30 per image (you then have the ability to use that image an unlimited number of times on blog or website). The cost goes down with the purchase of larger blocks. I like using this option, because I know for sure that the images I’m posting are legally acquired, and there is a huge number of images to choose from. There are, of course, other sites which offer the same service.

NOTE: We writers often do book reviews on our blogs. It is good to know that using a cover image in the context of a review is considered fair use. Note that using any other images from the book would require the permission of the illustrator or publisher.

A quick word about YouTube videos. It is so tempting, and so easy, to add YouTube videos to one’s blog, but here again, I’d caution to check the copyright of such videos, as often, performances, recordings, and books are posted on YouTube by someone who does NOT own the copyright for these things. It’s always best to err on the side of caution. Here is a link to YouTube’s FAQ.


I found another blogger’s commentary on copyright and fair use which you might find helpful.

And from, some words on copyright and fair use.


Next Monday: a look at Copyright and ‘Fair Use’ in quoting others’ content.

29 thoughts on “Copyright and ‘Fair Use’ in Blogging: Images”

  1. Boy is this eye-opening, Beth. I’m really glad you’re posting this series. I thought anything on google images was fair game and that I was actually doing more than required even to say I got it from there, when in fact I have probably been unfairly using things all this time! I have a lot to learn about this, clearly!

    1. It’s easy to assume, since things are so easily available on the internet. These days it’s best to err on the side of caution, it seems to me.

  2. Hi, Beth. Thanks so much for this informative post. Such an important topic, and one I need to understand better. Wondering what the other two posts in the series will be about!

    1. Hi, Kerry! You are very welcome. Sneak peek into the future — next week will be posting others’ content, and the following week will be posting your own content.

    1. Thanks, Joanna. After working in a library for 23 years, and dealing with copyright and public performance rights for the DVDs I ordered, this whole subject became one of my keen interests.

  3. “Give credit to who said it,” was my mantra to students doing research papers and reports in the high school library, reminding them over and over to include citations in their work that could lead readers back to the original source.

    But, as you well stated, it gets a bit more complex when it comes to images!

    Creative Commons is decidedly the bloggers’ friend, if we can’t pay for royalty-free images (big difference between free and royalty-free, we discover).

    Thanks for a clear and useful post that we’ll refer to often, just to make sure we’ve got it right!

    1. Thanks, Katy! The internet makes all copyright issues more complex than they used to be! I’m glad I’ve been able to shed a little light on the complexities.

  4. Good for you for addressing the copyright stuff. It can be difficult to sift through everything, but it’s worth the time spent.
    Of course, if you find something you like, it never hurts to ask the owner if you can use it. They might say yes

  5. great information about copyright. I’m looking forward to the rest in the series.

    I designed some brochures for my mother’s clinic last year and used a different stockphoto site but I didn’t know about Fotolia at the time – it looks more cost effective, so I’ll have to bookmark it for the future. Sometimes it is hard to find the perfect image so it’s good to have a few sites to look on.

    1. Thanks, LittleMiao. Which site did you use?

      I’ve been very happy with Fotolia thus far, and I’ve used it a lot this month! (er… last month!)

      1. I ended up using istockphoto. I think I learned about it through vox. The only other one I compared it with was shutterstock, and they were probably about equal cost-wise. I bought a bunch of credits for my mother, still haven’t used them up, but once they are done I will check out Fotolia

        1. You’re definitely making me grateful that I was steered toward Fotolia right from the start. Thanks for sharing, LittleMiao!

  6. Pingback: Copyright and “Fair Use” in Blogging: Part Two, Others’ Content

  7. This is awesome, Beth! It goes to show we can always learn so much more. I also agree with Angela, in that SOPA and PIPA did help bring awareness to this important issue. I am bookmarking this. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Copyright and “Fair Use” in Blogging — Part Three: Your Own Content

  9. Hi, Beth! This is terrific!
    It’s good that you’re talking about it. Many people have no idea about these things. “Re-purposing” other peoples’ efforts (whether legal or not) has always been in important issue but the interwebs have coughed it up and tossed it into our faces like an enormous hairball.


    1. Thanks, Robin — sorry I’m just getting back here to thank you for this comment. “an enormous hairball” indeed. 🙂

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