Sunday, September 4, 2011

How To Use Images & Photos Legally

Someone asked a question on Google+ today that sparked this post. She asked if using images from Google was okay in her own blog because they were in the public domain. Just because I'm a librarian and know that there are several misconceptions in that question, doesn't mean that other bloggers understand the ins & outs of copyright, public domain, and how to use images legally. So, I thought I'd do a post about how to legally use photos and images on the Internet.

Usually the first thing I tell people, especially students creating multi-media projects, is to take your own photos. Then you never have to worry about copyright. But not everyone is a photog, so here is another idea.

My favorite place to get photos that are high quality and legal is Flickr Creative Commons.
This is a photo sharing site where creative people put their work up for us to use. There is an enormous variety of pictures! Anything you're looking for you will probably find. Actually, sometimes the photos themselves inspire me to go a different way on my project or article. 
Here's the catch, at the bare minimum, you have to give attribution to the owner.

You can choose which type of license to search right from the the homepage: 
Attrubution License means you simply have to credit the owner. The other licenses have different guidelines, and those are briefly described right on the home page.

So, all you have to do is follow the guidelines for each image you use, give attribution and it's that simple. You will find the most unique, creative photos on Flickr that you really won't see anywhere else. You can also open an account and upload your own photos. Who knows, if people like your work, then maybe your photos will start popping up in other people's blogs!
In addition, I have a listing on the sidebar of this blog called "Photo/Image Sources for Presentation or Instruction," which includes some great places for high quality photos. Finally, if you really want even more high quality photos, you can pay to use royalty free photos from sites like iStockPhoto. They do have stunning photos, but you have to pay for most of them. 
Oops, I guess I didn't really answer the question at the beginning of the post:
Can you use photos from Google images, because they're in the public domain?
First of all, Google images are not the "public domain." I think people mistakenly think because something is "out there" that it's in the public domain. It's not. The public domain is when the copyright has run out on a piece of work. Or it's published purposely for public use. For example, for the most part, you can use Microsoft clip-art without worrying about copyright. 
Google is merely a search engine. It pulls picture from all over the web. So, when you find a picture there, it is your responsibility to find out if you can use that picture. That can be cumbersome, which is why I recommend Flickr Creative Commons. Remember - don't just go to Flickr and assume you can use those pictures. Go to the Flickr Creative Commons site and do your search from there. You can double check the guidelines on a picture by looking to the right sidebar for this:
Click on that to double check what you need to do to use a photo.

Hopefully this helps you decide how and when to use other people's photos and images!