Image Usage and Copyright Information – Read this before you post that photo!

Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.  Synonyms: Copying, infringement of copyright, piracy, theft, stealing. (Google)

Using an image without permission or attribution is also considered plagiarism.  Violating image copyright can be a serious problem for you if you don’t understand the guidelines.  There are countless sites on the internet that provide images, Google even has an image search function.

However, not all of these images are free to use.  It is important to understand that when you select an image from the internet and use it in your own Social Media updates, emails, website or blogs you need to make absolutely sure that the image is available for use in your publications.

A few examples of infringement related to images include (from

  • Copying images from website to put in your own website/updates.
  • A photograph or scan of a copyrighted image.
  • Recreating a visual work in the same medium (i.e. taking a photograph that uses the same subject matter and composition as someone else’s photograph.)
  • Re-creating a visual work in a different medium (i.e. painting a copy of someone’s photograph.)
  • Altering copyrighted images or video.

Most sites that provide images will give information on what images can be used, purchased, altered, etc.  The sites will explain how to provide an attribution if one is required.  Though, some images may seem available to use that may not be the case.

There are several ways the original creator of the image can decide how their images can be used.  Images that can (or can’t) be used will have a very clear specification of the type of copyright.  It is your responsibility to determine the usage guidelines.  Images will be classified into different categories.


Public domain images are available for anyone to use.  The creator may have placed the image in the public domain or the image may have once been copyrighted, but the copyright expired.  While public domain images are placed for anyone to use, proper attribution is still required.  For more information on public domain images see Wikipedia: Public domain.


“Fair use is a legal doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders” (Wikipedia)  Fair use allows the incorporation of copyrighted material in someone else’s work using the “four-factor balancing test.”

The four factors include:

  • The purpose and character of use.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work.
  • The amount of portion used from copyrighted work.
  • The effect on the value of the copyrighted work.

For more detail about these four factors see Fair Use – 4 Factor Balancing Test – LegalFlip.


Protected images are not available for use.  Should you use a protected image you find in a Google image search or elsewhere you are stealing.  Protected images will typically have a watermark, a copyright symbol or some indication of ownership.  There will also be an official copyright listing for the image.  Another clear indication the image is protected is that it may be for sale to purchase for use.


Some images may have a “Creative Commons” classification.  Creative Commons is actually a non-profit organization that provides copyright licenses.  It allows the creator to implement conditions on the use of images by others.  Typically the images will indicate they are Creative commons and will provide detailed instructions on how to provide an attribution if you use the image.  It will also outline whether or not you can alter the image.  For more information about what Creative Commons is or how to get a Creative commons license for your work see their website.

So, be careful when searching and using images you find on the internet.  The best thing to do before using an image you find is to educate yourself and do your research.  Even better, if you are going to use a lot of images invest in an image subscription to one of the online image sources.  This will ensure you are following the rules and using images that you have permission to use.


Laura M. Donovan Written by:

Laura Donovan is President of The Word Pro, a nationally recognized, award winning Digital Media Marketing Firm. She is a graduate of North Central College with a degree in Organizational Communications, a discipline that has proved valuable in her Social Media endeavors. Laura been managing Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. since 2009. I have helped hundreds of small-to-medium-sized businesses, in a variety of industries, across the U.S. with Digital and Social Media Marketing and Advertising. At The Word Pro, Inc. you get one-on-one service that is customized to your business goals and specific needs. From the first conversation we have, I help to build your digital and social media solutions that are affordable and effective. I have provided training sessions, conducted seminars and webinars, and manage the entire process so all you need to do is run your business, my team and I take care of the rest!