Looking for great photos for your next press release, blog, or social media post — without spending much cash?
If you’re not, maybe you should be. Interesting illustrations help with SEO, traffic, and the “stickiness” of your messages.They’re also a big factor in helping online content “go viral”.
One caveat: if the art overwhelms the text, your bounce rate may go up. (A bounce rate measures how much time people spend on your blog or website.) So keep the images relevant to your content.
The Creative Commons license turns 10 years this year, and the simple idea of releasing content with “some rights reserved” has revolutionized online sharing and fueled a thriving remix culture. (CC is a nonprofit and you can contribute to their annual campaign here: http://creativecommons.net/donate.)
A Creative Commons license means that the images are free for all to republish, with minor restrictions:
- Photos must be attributed to the photographer and copyright holder, and, if used online, a link back to the site where the photo first appeared is usually required.
- Commercial use (advertising, collateral, flyers, posters, T-shirts, etc.) may be prohibited.
- Remixes and mash-ups may be allowed.
Creators have the option of offering different versions of the Creative Commons license, so check the specifics on the image you want to use. On a site like Flickr, just click on the Creative Commons logo, and it will explain exactly what you can or can’t do with the image you’re looking at.
Images You CAN’T Use
The first thing to understand about using images in your social media or PR effort is that there are some images you just cannot use. At least you can’t use them unless you want to volunteer for a potentially huge copyright infringement settlement.
How huge? Dallas attorney Shawn E. Tuma told an audience of social media marketers recently that the average settlement in a copyright infringement case that makes it to court is $125,000 per infringement. So if you used a single image on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, and in a press release, you’d be looking at half a million in damages under his scenario.
Unless you contact the copyright holder in advance, and get written permission to use their image, don’t use images from:
- Other blogs
- Google or Bing searches
- Magazines or websites
- Twitpix, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media site
- Flickr, PhotoBucket or other sharing site UNLESS the image offers a Creative Commons license
Definitions to Memorize
If you remember nothing else from this blog post, memorize this: just because something is posted on the Internet and you can right-click on it to save it doesn’t give you the right to republish it on your blog — even if you credit the original source.
One of the most common misconceptions is that giving credit to the original source avoids copyright trouble. It doesn’t. When your high school English teacher told you to avoid trouble by crediting the original source, she was talking about plagiarism problems. Plagiarism (using someone else’s work and passing it off as your own) and copyright (using someone else’s work without permission or payment) are two different things.
If you remember just two things, add this to your memory bank: publishing photos of identifiable people requires their advance written permission unless they are public figures photographed in a public place. Those photos you took at a dinner party in a friend’s house? Yes, you need permission to use them commercially. Pictures from the company picnic? Yes, those require permission, too.
Even if you have permission to use the photo, you can’t use it in a way that makes the person look bad unless the article specifically applies to that person and is provably true.
So if you’re writing a blog post about the bad customer service you got at a hotel, and you find a Creative Commons licensed photo on Flickr of a hotel clerk, you can still get into trouble for using the image if a reasonable person might infer that the bad customer service experience happened with THIS person at THIS hotel, when it did not.
If you’re looking for a photo, look for images that don’t show identifiable people — for example, if you need a a photo of children playing, focus on hands reaching for a ball, or running feet instead of faces.
Six Great Sources for Legal Images
1. Take original photos. Photographs that you take yourself, or photographs that friends give you written permission to use can be great additions to your marketing communications image library.
A digital camera and some creativity will take you a long way – people love photos of children, dogs, and unusual landscapes, and they lend themselves to a lot of different posts. For example, the striking snapshot of a teenage circus performer, taken at a local talent show, was originally used to illustrate a blog post and brochure on a seminar on managing multiple projects.
You do need model releases unless the person shown is a public figure in a situation where that person has no expectation of privacy. A photo of the mayor at a ribbon cutting is probably fair game — but a photo of the mayor playing ball with his children probably isn’t.
The safest route is to download a release form and carry blanks with you if you think you’re likely to be snapping pictures for a blog or website Entrepreneur Magazine offers a free template.
Still lives and photos of animals may be safer. Your dog won’t sue you, and neither will the flowers from your garden, or the produce from your refrigerator.
Believe it or not, however, some inanimate objects are protected by copyrights — famous buildings, museum galleries, retail stores, logos on the sides of buildings, billboards, sculpture, paintings, and historical artifacts, for example — and some are considered sacred and shouldn’t be used. These include tribal symbols and art, Native American and Pacific Island dance and ceremonial costumes, and even locations that are considered sacred.
One well-known example of a place you can’t use in a commercial setting is the U.S. White House. Another is the New Zealand mountain Ngaurahoe, which was digitally eliminated from scenes in The Lord of the Rings, and replaced wtih a CGI mountain, in order to avoid offending Maori people.
2. Use images available under a Creative Commons License. Photos, videos, cartoons, graphics or illustrations from some amazing artists are available under a Creative Commons License through Flickr, Morgue File, or other legal photo sharing sites. Flickr tip: Always use the “Advanced Search” feature and check the Commercial Use, Creative Commons boxes. Regardless of the source, always include the required photo credits. See the caveat above about the context in which a photo is used.
3. Free cartoons available from sites like agent-x.com.au, cartoonaday.com, sangrea.net, or Flickr. Some truly amazing cartoonists like Scott Hampson of Agent-X.com.au, and the comic geniuses behind Geek and Poke allow their work to be used under Creative Commons licenses — and it’s fabulous. So use it, and remember to say thanks with a by-line and a photo credit that links back to their blog or website.
4. Cartoons and photos for which you have purchased a license. There are truly amazing images available for license at commercial sites like Cartoonstock, iStock, Getty Images and many more. Prices can range from pennies to thousands of dollars, depending on the size of your audience, the purpose for which you’re using the image, and the subject matter.
Commercial licenses are usually for a set term. Cartoon Stock licenses, for instance, are for one year. You’ll get a notice when it’s time to renew the license or remove the image. Failing to remove the image on time is legally the same as using it without payment in the first place.
5. Graphics that you create. Charts, graphs, icons, logos, and clip-art fall into that category, as do original works you create using a graphics program.
Don’t own a graphics program? Use a productivity tool like PowerPoint or Excel, copy the resulting image into Paint, and save it out as a vector file that you can scale to size. These can be fast, easy, and eye-catching — and they’re always free.
6. PR photos provided by other marketers. This means that they were downloaded legally from the “Press Room” section of a company’s website, or you contacted a PR firm or company for permission.
If asking for permission, be prepared to tell the rights holder where and how you plan to use it. Sometimes you’ll get a “no”, but you may be surprised at what images are available this way.
Photo credit: Photo ©2011 by Deb McAlister-Holland. Used here with permission, all other rights reserved. Do not reuse without the photographer’s permission.