Bloggers Beware: You CAN Be Sued for Photos by Roni Loren

Roni will let me use this…right?

I’m popping in with an unplanned posting to recommend all of you go take a peek at Roni Loren’s blog today. 

She’s sharing her  personal story about using photos and, in my opinion, every blogger should read it. It’s not pretty, and cost her a ton of time and money.

Here’s what Roni learned about the use of photos without specific written consent:

It DOESN’T MATTER…

  • if you link back to the source and list the photographer’s name
  • if the picture is not full-sized (only thumbnail size is okay)
  • if you did it innocently
  • if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn’t claim the photo was yours
  • if you’ve added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site.
  • if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn’t absolve you.)

To read the rest of her story, click here.

Have you ever been sued or otherwise chastised online regarding photos? How do you choose the photos you use in your blogs? We’d love to hear about in the comments, either here or at Roni’s.

Have a great weekend!
Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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33 Responses to Bloggers Beware: You CAN Be Sued for Photos by Roni Loren

  1. Stacy Green says:

    I haven’t, Jenny, but I’m definitely worried about Thriller Thursday posts. They’re pretty photo heavy, and I assumed they were safe because I got them off news sites or other blogs. Now I’m thinking I’ll have to delete and completely restructure the posts. Thankful for Roni sharing, but I feel so bad for her.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I feel bad for her too. I hadn’t planned to post today, but I feel like the more attention there is to this, the better. And now I need to look at the photos across More Cowbell AND Writers In the Storm. Sigh…

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  2. K.B. Owen says:

    I just read Roni’s post earlier today, but thanks for the heads-up. How horrible for her.

    About the thumbnails – it’s okay to use those? Can I just change the size of any photos I’m not sure about to thumbnails?

    Thanks,
    Kathy

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I don’t believe using thumbnails is just a size change. If it were me, I’d directly see about using the photos that we use – either by getting them from open domain site (several are listed in Roni’s post and in the comments) or by actually asking permission (in writing) and receiving it (in writing).

      Roni said it took her 8-10 hours a day for a week to take all the photos down and find new ones to replace them. She’s been blogging for more than 3 years so the sheer number of posts had to be daunting.

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      • K.B. Owen says:

        What concerns me is the historical pics and text snapshots of news articles (mostly NYT archives) that I use. How do I know if the pic or article is old enough to qualify as public domain? Now I’m worried that NYT will be coming after me. Yikes.

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  3. Thanks for sharing the link, Jenny. It sucks for Roni but this is a valuable lesson to all bloggers.

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  4. Lynn Kelley says:

    Yikes, thanks for the heads up. I’m going over to read Loni’s post now. This is a subject that worries me, so I try to use as many of my own sucky pics as possible.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL…there’s nothing sucky about your pics! But this is likely why I don’t see the big sites like Writer Unboxed or The Bloggess using many photos on their sites.

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  5. Holy crayola crayons! THAT is why I use my own photos or the ones suggested by WordPress. What a disaster!

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  6. K.B. Owen says:

    FYI, many government sites allow fair use of their still images and videos. Here’s NASA’s policy (lots of great pics here, too): http://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/features/MP_Photo_Guidelines.html Off to double-check Library of Congress’s site. I think it’s the same, but I’m going to make sure!

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      WOW, those photos are gorgeous! Thanks for the links. I’ll be following up on this for some of my photo replacement.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Kathy, I just read this on Wikimedia Commons:

      In the U.S., any work published before January 1, 1923 anywhere in the world[1] is in the public domain. Other countries are not bound to that 1923 date, though.

      Complications arise when special cases are considered, such as trying to determine whether a work published later might be in the public domain in the U.S., or when dealing with unpublished works.

      When a work has not been published in the U.S. but in some other country, that other country’s copyright laws also must be taken into account. Re-users of Wikipedia content also might find the explanations here useful.

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  7. I take my own pictures and most of those in any of my blog posts are mine under copyright law. However, Roni’s post will make me extra cautious about posting photos without written permission.

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  8. Like we writers need something else to worry about. Damn. Guess I’ll go back and start deleting photos from blogs. Ugh.

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  9. Roni Loren says:

    Thanks so much for helping spread the word, Jenny. I definitely didn’t want to become a cautionary tale, but if nothing else, I’m hoping that by sharing my experience I save others from making the same mistake.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Roni, thank God you’ve stepped forward to be the cautionary tale. I thought I was doing what was required by attributing the photo to the site it came from on Google Images, but I can see I wasn’t even close.

      Like you, I have two websites worth of material to fix – the equivalent to about 600 posts. It’s a big deal, and I needed this kick to make me do it.🙂

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  10. Mike says:

    You can filter a Google images search by license. There are ample photos available on a creative commons (CC) or copyleft license. Roni’s post has a number of good suggestions about sourcing photos that are okay to use. A Google search for “blogging pictures copyright” will also turn up 436,000,000 other resources on the subject. There is no excuse for ignorance on this subject.

    Also, “fair use”. You keep on using this phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means. Fair use, when it applies, applies almost exclusively to personal use scenarios. As soon as you are publishing something (and a blog is publishing) there is almost no possible chance of using fair use provisions. You need to get permission.

    What surprises me is that a bunch of writers, who presumably are familiar with how copyright law protects their own work would be so clueless about how it protects the work of photographers. If someone reposted your blog post or a chapter of your book or a short story you wrote on their own site without your express permission, even if they put your name next to it, you’d be going for the jugular, every last one of you.

    I have to say the tone of most of the comments here bothers me a great deal. The feeling that this is an “inconvenience” for “us writers” is ridiculous. If you’ve been using other people’s work without even the bare minimum of their permission you deserve to be sued. That people who create content would be so blasé about stealing other people’s creative efforts is, to put it bluntly, disgusting.

    Oh, and if you think I’m over-reacting let’s try a little thought experiment. Change “photo” in this situation to “piece of writing” and change “I used someone else’s” to “someone else used my” and see if you feel the same way about the situation. Didn’t think so.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Mike,

      Thank you taking the time to leave a comment. I agree with you that the information is available and that we simply took on faith what others told us the rules were. My hat is off to Roni for alerting us to this issue in a way that takes responsibility. She never said she was in the right. She said she didn’t know.

      Now that she knows better, she’ll do better. Because she alerted us to this issue, so will we.

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      • Mike says:

        Hey Jenny,

        Sorry, I guess I wasn’t being clear in my comment. I wasn’t being particularly critical of Roni (or of you for that matter). I do think that getting the correct information on this subject is easy enough that not knowing is really just a matter of lazy, but yes I appreciate that Roni has taken responsibility for her ignorance and has taken steps to fix it for both herself and others.

        What I was really bothered by, and it bothers me a great deal, was the attitude in the comments that respecting the copyright of photographers is somehow unreasonable. As I said, if it was your writing rather than someone else’s photograph the attitude would be very different.

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  11. K.B. Owen says:

    Well, Mike, the air up there must be pretty nice.

    I’ll let other writers chime in if they wish. I can only speak to my personal experience. It seems as if you are quite savvy about the correct search terms to put in and all the right sites to go to in order to collect the material you need. However, not all of us share that privileged background. I’m not a very tech-savvy gal, and this blogging journey has been a wild seat-of-my-pants kind of ride, where half the time I’m just trying to figure out how to format something properly. I’m learning, but I have to learn by doing.

    One thing I have been trained in, however, is academic scholarship. That’s my background. I was guided by that training in writing my blogs, which were designed to inform and entertain, not to make money or establish myself as an international photographer on the foundation of someone else’s hard work.

    In academia, you don’t request permission in advance from every single critic you intend to cite when writing a scholarly article – that would be impractical and absurd. That’s where “fair use” is supposed to come in. But the responsibility on the scholar’s part, of course, is to properly attribute the quotes and ideas being applied. Otherwise, it’s plagiarism, aka, passing one’s work off as one’s own. That’s what I went by when using images in my blog: make sure I properly attributed the sources to the best of my ability, so that it was very clear that these images were not my own, and give proper credit to the artists/photographers.

    Certainly, I can see now that my assumptions were mistaken in the legal sense, but not in the moral sense. And, however mistaken I have been, it is certainly a far cry from the vitriolic “you deserve to be sued” statement you are spewing forth here. I am quite surprised by the intensity of your hatred, frankly. It obscures any rational argument you are trying to make.

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    • Mike says:

      Hi KB,

      I also come from an academic background. I am also aware of the difference between a citation and a whole work. A photo is, by definition, a whole work. If you were to quote an entire work in an academic paper you would be crucified, so your reference to academia doesn’t really help you here. Your attitude that you are morally justified in using a photo as long as you say whose photo it is is reprehensible. It is fundamentally the same as publishing an anthology of short stories without paying the authors and saying it is acceptable because you said who wrote each story.

      As to being so tech savvy that I know how to find out how copyright applies to images – this is not something that is difficult to find out. You are on the internet already, any search involving some variation of “image/picture/photo” along with copyright and blog will turn up the same information. A search for “using pictures on my blog” will do the same. Everyone commenting on this post did research, they just chose to follow the wrong information. Your academic background must have trained you in how to evaluate the reliability of a source, right?

      And to be clear, I’m not being hateful. I hate nobody. I’m not even being particularly hard on people who have used other people’s pictures illegally through ignorance. I merely pointed out that ignorance is difficult to defend given the access to information we all enjoy. And if you’ve used someone else’s work without their permission, illegally as it happens, you do deserve to be sued. If I steal your car I can’t use as my defense, “But I gave it back when she asked, so no harm done!” (I realise the flaw in the analogy – copyright infringement doesn’t deprive the creator of the content, so it isn’t exactly parallel with theft). If you break the law you deserve to face the penalty of that law.

      What I’m bothered by the most here is the attitude that respecting other artists is somehow an onerous imposition on us as bloggers and writers. One commenter in particular got my goat. The sense of entitlement that seeps from his post is offensive to me.

      That is the only target here of vitriol from me, the idea that it is somehow unreasonable to expect us to respect photographers and their work. If you are of the opinion that it is morally acceptable to use a photographer’s work without permission simply because you included her name then I don’t think we have much more to talk about.

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  12. Jenny Hansen says:

    I love discourse on More Cowbell and the only rule I have about it is that everyone be respectful of one another’s views – no name calling allowed. If I feel that a discussion is degenerating into a personal attack, I will either edit it (which I just did) or take it down. Please give one another the benefit of the doubt, y’all.

    When we know how to do better, we do it. The end.

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  13. Jenny Hansen says:

    Interesting karma at work on the web today. True story: a few hours ago I got a comment from Laurie Smale who let me know that one of the photos I used in an old post on public speaking (https://jennyhansenauthor.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/do-writers-need-presentation-skills/) contained a photo she holds the copyright to.

    Her comment was very gracious and asked only that I attribute it or take it down. I didn’t originally get it from her site, so I was happy to have the ability to use the photo with correct attribution, rather than lose it for the post.

    Click on the link above if you want to see the post and both our comments. I LOVE karma!!

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  14. I always only ever use photos that I have received express permission to use. It is safer that way.

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  15. I got “trained” on photo use when I wrote for Suite101, so I generally go to StockXchng or Flickr or Wikimedia for pictures. Although it’s good to know the 1923 US date – there’s a site called DeadFred that has old pictures needing identification (genealogy-related, usually). I used them since they were unclaimed, but I feel better knowing that Civil War era photos are fine. I’m going to go back and double-check what’s on my blog, though.

    Mike, I think for many of us, it’s because we’ve had attribution of written works drilled into us from grade school on up, so when we think about copyright, we think about written words. (Or music, after all the piracy discussions.) That, combined with the pervasive use of posting pictures online. Of course, the fact that “everyone else does it” is NOT an excuse, and neither is ignorance, but it means we have to actively think outside the box before we realize we’re doing it wrong.

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