Websites like Flickr offer a wealth of user-generated images, making it easy to create a visually compelling blog. However, using another’s work is always a tricky business, and bloggers need to be aware of the legal ramifications that may accompany use of a found photograph.
So, how can you tell if you can use someone else’s photograph? Whether or not you can legally use another’s photo on your blog depends on the kind of license governing the particular photo you want to use. Most users on Flickr have one of two types of licenses governing third party use of their work: a traditional Copyright license with “all rights reserved,” or a Creative Commons license with “some rights reserved.” You can find out what kind of license an author has by looking for a watermark on the photo, or, sites like Flickr will have an actual “License” section next to the work spelling out any limitations on use. If the photographer has a copyright notice posted with their work, you may not use the photo in any way unless you first contact the photographer and obtain their permission. You can take the phrase “all rights reserved” at face value— the creator of the work is withholding all the rights associated with the work under copyright law. This includes the right to display, share, copy and change the work. This is the strictest license, and bloggers should avoid using copyrighted photos unless given express permission. On the other hand, a Creative Commons license usually grants limited use of the work in certain circumstances. There are several variations of the Creative Commons license, with each variation determining how you may use the photo.
Different kinds of restrictions on Creative Commons licenses: Attribution: You may use the photo, but you must give the author credit. Best practices include linking back to the source image. Non-Commercial: You may use the photo, but only if your use of the photo is not considered “commercial use”. Generally, if your blog has any sort of advertising, or generates income in any way, your use of the photo will be considered “commercial use”. Thus, if a photographer has this license restriction on use of the photo, you would not legally be able to use it on your blog.
No Derivative Works: You may use the photo, but you may not alter the photo in any way, i.e., create a “derivative work”.
Share Alike: You may alter the photo (create a derivative work), but you must restrict use of your derivative work with the same license that governs the original. These four restrictions may be combined in various ways in a single creative commons license. Particular attention needs to be paid to the “Non-Commercial” restriction, as many bloggers are unaware that use of the photo on their blogs would actually qualify as commercial use. Income generation of any kind would qualify any blog as a commercial user of a work, regardless if an actual profit is earned. To make searching for and finding licensed content easier, there are various search engines dedicated to locating legally useable images on Flickr and other sites. These search engines pull from Flickr’s API and return images grouped by the license restrictions governing those particular images. That way, you can find photos based on how you plan to use them, ensuring you are aware of any legal limitations ahead of time. With a little due diligence on the front end, you can ensure you never end up on the wrong side of a legal battle.