As anyone who is an online content creator or curator knows, there is significant importance in using images to help get your audience’s attention. In fact, choosing the right imagery is probably the biggest part of planning out the perfect post. Finding just the right image can take any social media post to another level. But let’s be honest – how many of you have simply typed a keyword into Google and used the first picture to appear in results?
Most of the images you find in a Google search may well be copyrighted and if you don’t know the source but still use it anyway, your business could become liable for violating copyright laws.
You could argue that everyone and their mother uses copyrighted images for social media posts or that your business is too small for anyone to notice anyways. However, these points become moot when someone actually ends up calling you out. And don’t think that just because you’ve provided attribution and/or a link back to the original image, you’re free and in the clear.
Fair Use & Copyright
What about fair use, you ask?
Well for starter’s, fair use has nothing to do with attribution (attribution is related to plagiarism, which is different from copyright). Copyright is a federal law of the United States that protects original authorship and an automatic right that is attached as soon as the original work is created. It’s relevant to both published and unpublished works. Unlike a trademark or patent, copyright does not require the author to file special paperwork. To enforce the rights of copyright, you do have to register but are not required to use the “circle c”.
Fair use on the other hand basically means you’re allowed to infringe on someone’s copyright and they can’t do anything about it. If you use a photo and it is covered by fair use, you’re not required to provide attribution. So what does fair use cover? If you are using a photo for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, good to go. But if you’re like most people and are just using the image to pretty up a social media post, don’t take the chance. Unless you want to pay up to $25,000 in fines.
Legal Imagery Sources
There are plenty of alternatives to simply snagging your images from Google that are far less complicated than you may imagine. Here are a handful below:
- Google: “Huh? Wait a minute, SMB. You said ‘no’ to Google.” Well, we say ‘no’ to a Google image search not filtered by license. Luckily, Google offers advanced search tools that allow you to narrow down all image results available for reuse. LOOK AT ALL THOSE PANDAS! For a breakdown of image license search options, see here.
- Creative Commons: This nonprofit organization provides a platform to search through a plethora of fair use media with free legal tools.
- Stock Imagery: A number of stock imagery sites for both free (*sigh of relief from the budget*) and fee imagery are floating around out there. For a list of some of our favorite FREE stock imagery sites, see here.
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