Crediting images online
As a writer, your job is not only limited to produce great content but also to make sure that your audience enjoys what they’re reading. A well-written article should also be visually appealing to the reader and photos are interesting — period.
However, what images are free to use and which ones fall under copyrights can be tricky to understand, especially with the web being full of options.
Here’s our checklist of things to keep in mind when you’re using images from the internet.
Writer’s checklist for using images in a blog
What makes an image legal?
Any image is considered legal if;
- it’s created solely by you for your personal use (if you make it, you own it),
- you brought it through a photo bank,
- it’s been allowed for use by its owner under their content policy,
- or if it belongs to the public domain.
1. Public domain images
Any material that’s free from legal restrictions and copyrights is considered to be in the public domain. You can use, edit and share such material commercially, without asking for permission to do so.
Resources in the public domain are usually marked with the public domain symbol. However, just because a material is marked as public domain, you should still check the copyright before you start using it.
Photobanks (such as Unsplash), which allow free downloads, also belong to the public domain.
You can refer to this list of resources that contain public domain content.
2. Sourcing images
Everyone deserves credit for the work they do. Similarly, a good writer should make it a common habit to practice fair use of images, giving due respect to their owners, even if they are free to use. However, using an image and giving it a shout out, doesn’t amount to fair use.
There are many different routes you could consider when trying to find an image for your blog post. Here are our top-5 ways:
2.1. Public domain
When sourcing images from the public domain, it’s considered good practice and safe to credit the author/image owner, even if the images are free to use. Legally, this would be the safest option.
Photobanks are websites that function as a showcase platform between photographers and customers.
You can usually purchase stock photos from these websites as per their subscription policies, whilst some photobanks such as Getty Images even include helpful image embedding options on their photos.
Irrespective of whether you‘rebuying the photo or downloading it, it’s always best to give proper photo credits to the photographer, as well as the parent stock photography website.
2.3. Social media
When picking a photo, social media is the trickiest place to be. You need to be super careful, as that’s the place you are most likely to be sued or suffer a DMCA takedown.
One rule that can help is simply to ask for permission. By asking, you’re giving the owner(s) a right to decide — which is extremely important.
Just because a post is from a public profile, does not mean every image on that profile is free to use. You need to have the right clearances, with a formal request to use the author’s content before featuring any of their work.
Images which contain family members or are visibly personal to the user are private images and can not be used without permission. In fact, be very sure of the kind of image you’re asking the right for, as you’re most likely to be refused for a picture including a child or family member.
Images from Reddit or Imgur
Images from Reddit or Imgur do not need any formal permissions, as most of the images are posted as “open to the public”. However, the rule still stays — credit the user!
2.4 Author’s content
Any material (image, infographic, illustration or painting, etc.) which belongs to an author’s or group’s website also needs the right clearances before you can use it.
Before making a formal request, be sure if they even accept any image requests through their content policies, which are often located on their website.
2.5 Screenshots from videos
If you are keen to use a certain fact from an authorised video on YouTube (or any other platform) and would like to take screenshots, you must request the rights to use these too.
Even f you’re uploading screenshots and crediting them to the video, just like that, you could still be questioned by the publisher.
3. Commercial images
Any content, by a person, group or company that was specifically produced for commercial use or sale (such as; illustrations used inside a published in a book or a painting, etc), cannot be used, even with due credits.
A writer should read the relevant content policies and terms, which are often provided on the owner’s website, before requesting permission to use.
4. Editing images that aren’t yours
Using someone’s image (even if it’s with their permission), does not entitle you to edit it and call it yours because of the changes you made.
If you’re intending to use an image and convert it into something new, even if it’s a subtle filter effect, it’s still the property of its original owner(s).
How to source an image online?
Format for crediting photos
A general format to credit photos could be as follows:
<author name> / <website name>
This should be linked to an active page (not image-file), which is the page where the image is sourced from within the website.
Before quoting the source, you can use different labels such as photo credits, source, image source etc., as per your website’s preference.
Location for crediting sources
It’s always better to quote sources below every image individually, rather than sourcing them together at the end. Even if all the images have been taken from the same website.
Find the right source of an image
A lot of websites would be using the same photos as you, by taking them from the very common list of photobanks. Therefore, finding the real source of an image can be a little difficult at times, especially if you have many images to source in an article.
Tips to find the right image sources:
- Use reverse image search tools like TinEye to find out the actual timeline of the photo’s upload history.
- If you are referencing another blog post, do not blindly rely on their image sources. Check the photo’s source and follow the trail until you reach a reliable one. It’s pretty cumbersome but is worth the work.
- Linking an image to its .jpg file link is blunderous. As there’s no information about the author here.
- Instead, you should link to where you found the image at.
- Acceptable link: https://www.reddit.com/r/mildlyinteresting/comments/a2o1nk/this_gerbera_flower_in_my_backyard_is_covered/
- Unacceptable link: https://i.redd.it/uc4r2h6fz1221.jpg
Open images in new tab
Most readers will be browsing through your article on their mobile devices. Meaning, you should make sure your images never open in the same tab. As users are most likely to click an image and lose the article if your images are hyperlinked.
For WordPress users, to keep your users constantly engaged, you can use the “Open link in a new tab” option when you hyperlink any images. This way, even if there’s an accidental click, your image opens in another tab, keeping the article right there in the previous tab.
If your WordPress website has a large number of posts, you could consider automatically opening links in new tabs, by getting your developer to build this functionality into your theme.
Further tips for sourcing images online
- Make sure that the link to the source works, keep checking on it and consider weekly SEO auditing tools to automate this process.
- Consider using rel=”nofollow” anchor link attributes on external sources, in order to maintain your website’s SEO value.
- Credits are not necessary when you’re embedding images/posts.
- When naming websites in credits, you must keep the domain extension (.com, .org, etc.). E.g. <user name> / wikipedia.org
- When naming social media websites, the domain extension can be skipped. E.g. <user name> / Reddit
In conclusion, copyright law is one of the most complex laws in the online world. The law doesn’t care much if the person infringing upon a photo is a big organisation or a small business owner. Meaning, make sure that everything on your website is done the right way and is not breaking any copyrights.
After all, nobody wants to get into legal issues through their website, due to a missing picture credit that could have been easily avoided.