Get permission first if you want to use a copyrighted photo in a blog post or any other online or print publication — or at least be sure you can publish it under “fair use” doctrine.
How I Got Permission to Use a Copyrighted Photo
I’m up before dawn most winter mornings (usually about 5 a.m.), and I typically take a 10-minute walk with my morning coffee on the road outside my rural home in the Shasta Valley in far northern California. Recently I saw a brilliant meteor streak slowly across the sky, and I wrote about the fireball on my Northern California Hiking Trails blog:
Usually I’ll see a meteor or two in the 10-15 minutes I’m out. But this morning, absolutely clear and calm, I saw magnificent orange fireball slowly move across over half the sky. It was nearly overhead, and I first noticed it when it was about 10 degrees east of the zenith. It moved nearly due west to finally disappear over the Eddy mountains.
It was one of those moments that come too rarely in life, a moment when you know you’re part of something beautiful, something special.
Go have a look at the post, and make sure you note the picture, its caption, and what I say about the photographer at the bottom of the post. We’ll wait…
Why I Wanted a Picture, Even a Copyrighted One
A fireball is one of the supreme visual experiences of a lifetime. I’m apparently in a minority by thinking that most blog posts don’t need to have a picture, but some posts really do need a good picture, so I went searching online.
How I Find Copyrighted Pictures and Noncopyrighted Pictures
For my hiking blog I usually do a Google image search for keywords, along with “.gov” because U.S. government photos and other images can usually be used without permission. (We already own them.)
But I didn’t find any good government photos. (Momentary pause for your snarky thoughts…) I did come across a great shot of a fireball in the Mojave desert taken by professional astrophotographer Wally Pacholka. Of course, Wally owns the copyright.
My Request for Permission to Use the Copyrighted Photo
I went to Wally’s website, found his e-mail address, and quickly sent this quick e-mail to Wally:
I saw a fireball this morning (reported to the American Meteor Society), and decided to do a brief blog post about it on my Northern California Hiking Trails blog.
I’d like to include your photo (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap091217.html) with the post, but will only do so with your permission. I’d link the image to astropics.com, plus give you a keyword-rich text link. My blog has a Google page rank of 3, and the post will likely get 300-plus views, plus an unknown amount over time from Google searches, etc.
Here’s the post link: http://northerncaliforniahikingtrails.com/blog/2011/02/06/fireball-northern-california/
And you have some stunning shots!
Note what I included:
- Identification of exactly what I wanted to use, including the specific link (which also lets Wally know it’s a low-resolution photo)
- Where I wanted to use it, with the link to my blog post so he could see that it’s a quality site
- How Wally will benefit — number of readers, plus a keyword-rich backlinks to his site
- A genuine compliment about Wally’s top-notch astronomy pictures
Wally sent an e-mail back granting permission to use the photo, but only for the specific purpose I mentioned. (Smart guy.)
Why Bloggers and Web Writers Must Get Permission to Use Copyrighted Photos
#1. You’re legally required to do so (but see “fair use” below).
#2. You’re ethically required to do so.
I know these days many people think nothing of using other people’s copyrighted pictures, words, art, music, videos, etc without permission, and frequently without even attribution. It’s wrong.
In this post I focus on photos, but the same applies to all instances where you want to use someone’s copyrighted material.
How Wally Benefits From My Use of His Copyrighted Photo
Wally benefits in two ways: readers can go directly to his website from my link, and he got a backlink with keywords from a page rank 3 website.
Fair Use of Copyrighted Photos
Note that in some instances you can use copyrighted photo, but only if such use falls under the “fair use” concept of United States copyright law. Here’s the relevant section defining fair use from the U.S. Copyright Office:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
Important Update, March 3, 2011
I’ve done a bit of sleuthing, and I found this on the FreelanceWriting.com website about a recent case involving unauthorized use of a photo:
Webcopyplus, a web writing services firm, confirmed it recently paid approximately $4,000 US to settle an image copyright infringement claim, and warns web designers, developers, business owners and other marketers they may also be exposed to such claims, with statutory damages of up to $150,000 per image.
You can read the whole story about what happened directly from Rick Sloboda, a senior copywriter at Webcopyplus who had to deal with the mess:
Why would copywriters at Webcopyplus pay $4,000 for a digital photo that retails for about $10? Well, frankly, we screwed up. It’s an expensive lesson on copyright laws that we wish to share with other marketers, so you don’t make the same mistake.
Your Take on Permission for Copyrighted Photos…
What’s your view on the importance of getting permission before using copyrighted material? How do you handle similar situations?