Why you should NEVER take images from the Internet.


photography and copyright for bloggers

So you’ve written a great blog post, you just need the perfect picture to go with it.

If you’re like a huge number of bloggers, your first step is to search for images on Google, and copy the image that you like, before using it on your blog.


Did you know what you’re doing is actually against the law? 

That you’re infringing on someone’s copyright? 

And they have a right to send you a bill for using their image? 

Copyright is a law that protects things we create (words, pictures, movies) from being copied and used by other people. You don’t have to do anything special for your work to be protected – the moment you create something, it’s protected.

When you take a photo without paying, or asking for permission, it’s theft.

But I used a credit on the photo…

Lots of bloggers think if they say who the photo they’re using belongs to, that means it’s okay. But legally, it’s not. Legally, you MUST obtain permission to use every photo you use on a blog, if you don’t already own it.

If you only change one thing after reading this post, it’s this: STOP using Google Images to find photos, and then using them on your blog. Regardless of whether you credit Google, or the original image holder, if you take the image and use it, that’s copyright theft. You might get away with this 99.999% of the time, but every so often someone gets unlucky, and they’ll be landed with a big bill.

bad news: nobody much cares

If you think this is a non-issue, then you might want to take a look at the case of North Star Cakes, which is being talked about extensively on Facebook and Twitter this week. A blogger, North Star Cakes, produced a snake cake that was tremendously successful. Being a savvy sort, she sold the rights to her photo to a photograph agency based in Germany, who became the new owners of that image.

When other food bloggers and website owners began copying the snake cake photo and using it on their own sites, the photograph’s owners were not impressed. Some bloggers downloaded the photo from Facebook, ad then uploaded it to their own pages. And so lots of bloggers found themselves facing bills of 1,800 euros from the agency for using the images.

It’s not the first incident of this kind – bloggers and website owners in the UK have fallen foul of the law, receiving big bills for retrospective license fees after inadvertently using images owned by companies such as Corbis.

Legally, it’s a mess. But copyright owners ARE entitled to charge people who use their photos.

good news: you can avoid the whole issue

The good news is that it’s deeply easy to avoid this whole issue. Don’t use other people’s pictures without permission.

  • Use your own photos. The best possible way to have a blog that’s unique and personal and full of personality is to take your own photos and use them. Simple.
  • Buy your own photos. Need professional quality photos? Then use a stock image library and you can search through thousands of photos, and pay a small fee for a license to use those you really like. There’s lots to choose from including iStockPhoto, Shutterstock and Crestock (which has one of the most affordable celeb photo libraries around)
  • Use ‘creative commons’ photos. Lots of people don’t mind you using photos providing you credit them as the photographer, and they’ll let you know this by sharing their photo with a CREATIVE COMMONS license. Sometimes the photographer doesn’t mind if you even edit the photo a little (check individual licenses to be sure). Want to find creative commons images? You can search specifically for CC images in Google and Flickr, or via sites such as Compfight (which even offers a WP plug-in)
  • Ask permission. If you want to use a shot of a particular place or product, drop someone a line, on email or Twitter. It takes 2 minutes and takes all the worry out of using a professional image.
  • Use PR shots. Lots of brands will have press rooms with images that are free to be used in reviews and similar content – sometimes, you’ll need to register and provide your blog credentials first to access these areas. Photos may also be issued alongside press releases on sites such as Homes4Media and Food4Media. If you can’t find a PR library online, try dropping your PR contact an email and asking for some photos to use.

Oh, and PS…

All of this applies just as equally to other people’s words and music. With words, you ARE always allowed to quote part of someone’s work for the purposes of review or illustration but you shouldn’t reproduce someone else’s work wholesale. With music be very careful when adding music to videos. We recommend trying Vimeo’s music library for music to use on videos, or using the FREE music that comes with iMovie if you’re a Mac user. Alternatively, you can buy stock music of all styles through sites such as Audio Network.
We’ve written about what happens when someone steals YOUR pictures or posts previously – check out our copyright guide for bloggers.

Sally Whittle is founder of the Tots100, Foodies100, BlogSummit and the MAD Blog Awards. When she's not working, she can be found blogging at Who's the Mummy, or having fun with her 8 year old daughter, Flea.

Discussion12 Comments

    • Pinning is a very grey area. We have written about this (do a quick search if you’d like to know more) but in brief:

      Our advice is to only pin from sites that have a Pinterest logo, indicating the copyright owner is happy for you to share their images on the site, and only ever pin from the original URL, don’t download images and then upload them without credit.

      If you’re repinning, try to repin from people who pin their own content, if you want to be extra careful.

  1. I have used some images from wikipedia which do have common use licences, but one always has to read them as they can have caveats.

    I have also used other images, before I caught on to © issues. Should I remove them. How would I go about changing archived pages, if at all?

    • Hi Colin

      Thanks for commenting – I just read your live blog of BlogCamp and that’s such great feedback about sites and apps and things going over people’s heads. We’ll really try hard to fix that next time – thanks so much!

      On the question of images, it’s generally safest to remove an image where you aren’t sure of the provenance – there’s no particular limitation on when someone could take action, and therefore there’s a very small chance somebody might complain.

      Having said that, of course, in 99% of cases, providing you’ve not taken work from an agency, someone who was unhappy would probably just ask you to take an image down, so I wouldn’t panic too much!

      • Cheers for that Sally.

        I enjoyed my day even though for a chronic fatigue sufferer it used up a lot of my spoons for several days. Have been putting into action some of the tips re f/b. Once I get more energy will try to take other actions too. Hope my criticisms aren’t too harsh; have tried to be constructive – honest!!!

        In all cases I have provided a link to the original image. Think I shall leave those I have already used as no-one has thus far complained; but be more mindful in future.

        Thanks again. %)

  2. I never use anyone else’s images, I know 2 ladies (not bloggers, used on their own websites) who got caught out by Getty Images and it was not pretty!

    I love photography so prefer to use my own images, it’s a good idea to build up your own personal library of stock images, even something as ordinary as blueberries or oranges (I food blog too) when you have them in case you ever need an image of them!

    Great post, will check out some of your links too.

  3. I recently got a comment telling me that one of the images I’d used from google images was copyrighted and I need to either remove it or pay. I thanked them for warning me and removed the image.

    So you can reprint from pinterest (with the original url) but not google images or any other public domain – have I understood that correctly?

  4. Great post. I’ve not used Google images, the only images I’ve used that I didn’t take myself, were emailed to me with permissions. As for pinterest, I’ve mostly only pinned my own posts. And with my Wednesday words linky I always tell linkers to credit the original author when quoting.
    I’ve always wondered about music though as I want to get more into video posts. How do people get permissions to use pop songs in the background of their YouTube vids?

    Also a warning to bloggers… CHECK when a PR/SEO sends you images, that they have the right to distribute them. I checked up on a SEO that asked me to include an image in a sponsored post… He’d just taken it from Google images without permission. I refused to publish it. He didn’t see the big deal, but at the end of the day, it would’ve been me that got fined, not him!