Most people who surf the Web, including new bloggers, wrongly assume that everything they see on the Internet is available for their own personal use; if it’s “published” that puts it in the “public domain,” which means it’s no longer private and ownership is up for grabs. This line of thinking can get you in some serious legal trouble. Let’s take a look at Creative Commons licenses before you’re slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Almost every blog you visit has at least a few images. You’ll see images within the post, used to attract your attention or help you visualize what the blogger’s talking about. You’ll see images in the sidebars, used in ads, and images are also used as design elements in themes.
When you’re looking for images for your own blog it’s tempting to just copy and paste something you find on another blog, or something you found when you do a Google Image search, but many of those images are protected by a copyright. That means the person who took that picture or created that image or drawing owns the publishing rights and if you use it without their permission you are essentially committing plagiarism, which is illegal.
Now, you may be thinking that there are millions of blogs on the Internet and nobody’s going to take the time to track you down, but you’re wrong. Many of the people who take those pictures and create those backgrounds and drawings do so because that’s how they earn their living. It behooves them to monitor the Internet and catch people who’ve pirated their work and trust me, they do just that.
You may have also learned in your wanderings that it’s permissible for anyone to use any image or content that has a Creative Commons license. This is also untrue. There are different levels to this license and each has different requirements for use.
CC by Attribution: This license allows you to use the image any way you want, commercially or non-commercially, as long as you clearly provide attribution. You can edit the image, publish it on your blog, and even distribute it through your emails or social networks. However, in every location you must provide a link as specified with the image. In most cases the original creator will provide the link along with the image, so be sure to look before you copy.
CC by Attribution – No Derivs: This license allows you to distribute the image, for commercial or non-commercial purposes, and you must attribute it to the creator. However, you can not alter the image in any way. You can’t even add a border.
CC by Attribution – ShareAlike: This license allows you to edit and distribute the image, for commercial and non-commercial purposes. You must credit the creator and you must also license the altered image under an identical CC by Attribution – ShareAlike license.
CC by Attribution – Non-Commercial: This license allows you to do everything the CC by Attribution allows, with one difference: You can only use the image for non-commercial purposes. Period.
CC by Attribution – Non-commercial – NoDerivs: This license is the most restrictive. You may only use and share the images as long as you credit the owner, and for non-commercial purposes.
CC by Attribution – Non-commercial – ShareAlike: This license allows you to edit the image and use it for non-commercial purposes, only, as long as you credit the owner.
In all cases, attribution links crediting the owner or creator must be clearly visible, the must be working links, and they must be in close proximity to the image.
Using Images You Paid For
It’s important to note that you should never automatically assume you have unlimited rights when you purchase images or content. In many cases the owner will have a sliding fee scale. Pay the lower price and you can use the image on your own blog, for non-commercial purposes. Pay a higher price and you can use it commercially and distribute it anywhere you want.
The owner is always perfectly within his own rights to limit use of his content any way he sees fit and you are legally obligated to honor his rights. So don’t assume that just because you see the words “Creative Commons” that means you’re free to grab that image and use it however you want.