Do you really own your photo?

Valerie Turgeon March 29, 2017

Whoomp there it is—your organized, compelling and SEO-friendly blog post, perfectly aligned with your content marketing strategy. You brought the written goods, but what about your visuals? Integrating visuals (photos, video, infographics) online proves valuable—BuzzSumo found that articles with an image once every 75-100 words received double the social media shares as articles with fewer images.

But where do your visual assets come from? Do you know how they can be distributed and attributed? Using photos or submitting them to an agency without proper rights is legally risky and can significantly slow down the content creation process. If your designer finishes an infographic only to discover that you don’t have the proper rights, she will have to find new photos and start all over. *Facepalm* This wastes time and money.

Knowing the basics of copyright law, the “fair use” doctrine and types of photo rights may be a yawn, but is crucial if you’re creating content (I’m sure you especially don’t want a $5 photo turning into a possible budget buster due to copyright infringement).

Give me the download on copyright info.

As soon as an original work is created, whether with the stroke of a brush or the click-clack of a keyboard, it’s copyrighted by nature. However, its creator does need to register the copyright if legal action ever becomes necessary. Whether or not an asset contains a license, it’s best for your business’s blog to attain the right permissions and give the proper attribution.

Ingrain this statement into your and your colleague’s minds—tattoo it on each other’s foreheads if you need to:

Just because images are on the web does not mean they are in the public domain and free for just anyone to use.

You may notice that your friends post all kinds of memes and graphics on Facebook without also giving credit to the original creator. In this case, it’s OK (so fear not—all those cat videos you shared cause no harm). This is considered an exception to the copyright laws because of the “fair use” doctrine.

What is “fair use” exactly?

When an asset is considered fair use, it does not need permission or attribution. This includes when assets are used personally (on your own blogs and social accounts). Fair use also extends to nonprofits and teachers, especially when the asset is used for research, criticism, and other categories outlined here. When used for entertainment, for-profit or commercial purposes (ahem, for your business), you must receive permission. Four factors are considered when categorizing fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use (personal blog vs. commercial blog)
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work (creative works have more protection than factual)
  3. The amount and substantiality of use (generally, large amounts call for permission)
  4. The effect of the use on the work’s value (works that are largely distributed or have major impact typically needs permission)

Keep in mind that that the fair use doctrine is quite murky, and there are few cases to look to for guidance. But in the case of your corporate, for-profit blog, you should never post a photo without permissions or credit.

What are my options?

  • Outsource: Ask for photos from an outside agency or other company—you’ll most likely be charged and must adhere to the attribution requested. But you’ll know you’re covering all your bases.
  • Use stock photos: This is one of the most popular routes to access a variety of “royalty-free” images, which involves paying one flat price for an image that can be used for multiple purposes (more details at Shutterstock). BigStockPhoto, Fotolia, Getty, Image Source and iStock are a few sites that offer options for free and paid accounts. Take time to read the fine print and pay attention to the licenses of each photo to ensure you’re using it correctly.
  • Create your own: Developing your own photos not only saves you from liability issues, but original assets can enhance your brand as well as increase the ability for your content to be found.

As you begin to source photos, you’ll notice that there are different types of rights you can choose from. Knowing the difference will keep you safe from any blunders.

Editorial vs. commercial rights

Before beginning a project using visuals, Brandpoint clients are requested to fill out a form outlining info on each image they submit, including distribution rights. “Rights managed” and “editorial only” images are not accepted because the distribution of these types of photos are limited and have restrictions to their use.

In the case of a MAT release, an article with a photo will be distributed to multiple news outlets, so then you lose control over where and how the image is used. In this case, securing a photo with “unlimited” rights means there is no limit to the way the image is used and it can be distributed anywhere for any purpose, now and in the future. As mentioned above, “royalty free images,” as well as “extended licenses” are also acceptable for print MAT releases. Some licenses only allow for distribution online, so, again, read the fine print.

Not sure where to get a photo? Brandpoint offers a list of approved photo vendors with the licenses required for us to use it. You will need to purchase the appropriate license and follow each vendor’s unique restrictions. Or, leave the photo scouting up to Brandpoint for an additional fee.

Bottom Line

If you have to guess or are in doubt about how your photo can be distributed, then don’t use it. The pain of letting go of that perfect image is far less excruciating than paying for copyright infringement.

Valerie Turgeon March 29, 2017

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