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Blogging Best Practices: Photo Use and Attribution

Welcome to our series of posts on Blogging Best Practices! Each Thursday for 10 weeks, we'll debut a new post designed to help you create great content, share it with the world, and become a better blogger. Check out other posts in the series here!

It's a simple rule of blogging: images add visual interest to your posts and that's a good thing. But beyond that, finding and using images can be a little complicated. What if you don't have your own image to use? What if the absolutely perfect image is owned by someone else?

Without getting too much into legalities, the basic rule is that whoever took or created an image holds the copyright to that image. Ownership can be bought or legally transferred but for the sake of this post, let's just assume that you don't legally own any of the images out there on the internet, unless it's an image you took yourself.

This is an image that I took so I own it and can do whatever I want with it.

If you don't have your own image to use, a good next step is to check out sites that provide stock images. You can either buy images to use on a site like iStockphoto or sign up for a site like stock.xchng, which hosts royalty free images that are free to use. This is a good way to add an image to your content without having to deal directly with a photographer (great people but copyright gets sticky).

Keep in mind that you still don't own the images from a stock photo site, you're basically just borrowing them in a legal way. Also note that some artists who share their work on royalty-free sites still ask for attribution.

It's worth noting that while Google image search is awesome, it's not a great tool for finding royalty free images. Swiping an image from there is the same as swiping it directly from someone else's site: they own the image and using it without permission or attribution is violating copyright.

This image is from stock.xchng. I don't own it but I can use it here.

Now let's say you find a copyrighted image that's so unbelievably perfect, you just have to use it. Beyond being illegal, using someone else's image without their permission or attribution is poor etiquette. If you do things like that enough, you'll build up a bad reputation and no one wants that!

Many photographers and artists provide easy ways to contact them to ask permission to use their work, often on a dedicated page on their site. They may require a fee to use their image or a link back to their site with the image in your post.

When in doubt, ask for permission before using an image on your blog. If you can't get proper permission, find another image to use. The most beautiful, perfect photo in the world isn't worth using if you can't do it legally.

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