Image: Philip Harder

Images are important, right? Images draw in viewers, tell stories, and facilitate the sharing of experiences. This is a fundamental principle of online publishing. If you are familiar with this basic principle, chances are you’re also familiar with how challenging finding the perfect image can be. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones and actually find that perfect image. Great! But there may be additional considerations before you slap that image on your blog or website.

Simply put, if you are not the author of artwork (you didn’t take the photo or create the image), you do not own that artwork. At this point, you’re probably asking, “why do I see so many people using other people’s images?” The following practical approaches are options for using images that you do not own:

Assuming you are not the author of the image you would like to use, someone else is and they have rights in that image. As such, the first thing you should do is ask permission from the photographer to use the image. Typically the author/photographer can easily be reached through their website. The photographer may require payment of a licensing fee to use the image.

The easiest and cheapest option for use of others’ images is the “public domain.” Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. When using public domain images, you do not have to deal directly with the photographer for permission, or exchange money to license an image. However, be sure to do your research to ensure that your image does, in fact, live in the public domain. Don’t just assume your image is a public domain image just because it’s old!

This is a form of copyright protection, but rather than seeking to restrict the use of an image the owner gives the public permission to use the image. This is another option that avoids dealing with the photographer and avoids license fees. Creative Commons images can be pulled from or creative commons search.

Finally, stock images, obtained from a site like, can be used for free or can be licensed (for a fee) from sites like iStock Photo. These images are licensed to you after the image owner already granted the stock photo website permission, making the process easy for you (you only deal with the website).

What exactly is attribution and how is it done properly? Attribution is simply giving credit to the owner of the image. The best way to do this is to place a short note stating something along these lines: “Photo Source: The Sartorialist” right under the image, preferably with a hyperlink to the source. The link should live right under the image, not hidden at the bottom of the page or obscured by small print and should give credit directly to the owner.

Remember that in all of the above examples, you still do not own the image; instead, you are essentially renting or borrowing the image. The converse of this is true, too. If you use images from a Google image search, or somewhere else without permission, you are essentially stealing someone else’s “intellectual property”. Someone else owns the image; therefore, using the image without permission is a violation of intellectual property laws and could potentially get you into hot water.

Choosing the right image can be tricky and knowing whether or not you can legally use the image can be even trickier. Bottom line, if you’re unsure, ask for permission, and always attribute. Not doing so can hurt your own artistic integrity and professional reputation, and when building an online following, a bad reputation is the last thing you want.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is presented for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice. Before acting on any information presented in this article, you should consult an attorney regarding the facts of your specific situation. We would love to hear from you, so please feel free to contact Wilkinson Mazzeo for a consultation.

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