Photos and Copyright Law

If you find a photo and place it on your website, in a paper, or use it as an image in some other document, be careful. More likely than not, you are in violation of copyright law. My rule for photos: if you didn’t shoot it with your own camera, draw it with your own hand, or create it on your own computer, the image is not yours to use.

How can I use an image on my website?

Make it yourself
Be creative. Sure, people with access to the technology will use PhotoShop or Illustrator for their images, but an iPhone or Droid can also make a great image for the web. If you want to spice up your phone’s images, try downloading a photography application. Photoshop Mobile, Instagram, or Diptic are free apps that let you manipulate photos and create compelling, web-ready images.

Embed the image
Some sites will allow you to embed images into your own website, especially if doing so will generate traffic back to their website. In these cases, the images have embed codes. You’ll find these on sites like YouTube, Slideshare, Scribd, and even various art-related sites like:
Dilbert.comMany blog platforms, including WordPress, will also allow you to manually embed images from other websites. If the owner removes the image from the original website, it will also be removed from yours. For example, if artist Scott Adams removes or protects the comic strip above, it will no longer appear here. Notice that when you embed an image, when clicked, the image takes the viewer to the original website. So, if you click the Dilbert strip above, you’ll go to

Get Permission
We can all use images with permission of their owners. Some owners make their images available for free through distributors or Creative Commons licenses or for a fee from a stock photography website. Many of these will also require a citation, caption, or photo credit.

Appropriate Citation
If you’re using a photo for a class project, insert a citation. School libraries have databases of journalistic and government photos that can be used with an appropriate citation. Follow the citation styles for your class and required by the image you choose. But if, you’re using it online, in print, or for profit, things become more tricky. Be sure you know where the image came from and direct your readers to that source. However, most images are protected and, unless the owner specifies otherwise, shouldn’t be used without permission, even with a citation. Read these tips for citation for blogs.

The information in this post is intended to benefit the typical student of digital strategic communication. If you have questions about specific copyright issues, contact a lawyer or the owner of an image you want to use.


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