Important: I’m not a lawyer; please don’t read this post and say “well, that’s all I need to know!” There are definitely things I’m missing here, and if you’re concerned about potential legal trouble resulting from your blogging or social media posts, you’ll need to do lots of homework.
It’s amazing to me how many hugely popular blogs I see using images the writer found on WeHeartIt or Google Images. Guys, I love you, but you’re going to get sued. I know, everyone uses images from all over the place, right? But that’s pretty much the worst legal excuse of all time, and it’s not going to save you from what could be a pretty ridiculous fine, as this blogger learned the hard way. Cases like this are only going to get more common as reverse-image searching gets better and better, allowing creators and rights-holders greater ease when it comes to searching out their images.
Some of you are probably reading this and going “Well, I get my pictures from Flickr and it’s all under creative commons licenses.” That’s a gamble, though — turns out some people upload images they don’t own and check off the creative commons boxes. There’s a deeper look at this issue over here, emphasizing a hard fact about many stock agencies and larger companies: they don’t care that the fault truly lies with the original uploader. They just want more money.
Also, as an aside: if you’re thinking “I cite my sources, it’s publicity for them,” as I’ve seen argued in the comments to some of these articles, you should know that the publicity argument is super-shady. If it’s genuinely a great opportunity to have their stuff on your page — and there are definitely cases where that’s true, don’t get me wrong! — then you would be contacting them in advance to introduce yourself, let them know what you and your blog are about, and ask permission to use their images.
Back to the topic at hand: I’ve also seen several posts with free resources like fonts and backgrounds, which is great — except a lot of people don’t seem to read the licenses. Blogging is murky territory when it comes to licensing, since a lot of licenses require payment unless it’s personal use. While it seems logical that a personal blog would constitute personal use, it’s not always (or possibly ever) the case, depending on things like ad revenue, sponsorship of any sort, or even the type of hosting you have. (But that’s a blog post that needs to be written by someone who speaks more legalese than I do). To be totally safe, you should only be using things you created yourself, or using things you have a license or express permission from the creator to use.
We need to stop using images that could get us in legal trouble, and we seriously, seriously need to stop recommending that others do the same. Luckily, there are lots of tools out there you can legitimately use for free to learn how to do it yourself.
Taking your own pictures can be a pain at first, but it’s a valuable skill to have. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either; while an SLR camera is optimal, you can take excellent pictures with a decent point-and-shoot camera, or even your phone. A few resources:
- For photography beginners, or people like me in dire need of a refresher, check out this free online course from Harvard on the basics of digital photography. You’ll get the most use out of this one if you have an SLR camera, but you can choose to do only the modules that apply to whatever you’re using.
- One of my favourite bloggers has put together this quick list of lighting dos and don’ts that makes for a solid, simple introduction to lighting, which is (in my opinion, anyway) one of the trickiest parts when starting to learn photography.
- If you’ve got a tiny subject or want an intense close-up of details, you can make a macro lens for your smartphone for around a dollar.
- A light box is essential if you plan on doing any product photography, and it’s nice to have for other small things, too. There are lots of DIY tutorials out there using a variety of materials, but this one is the most inexpensive and accessible one I’ve seen.
- I haven’t tried this DIY camera stabilizer tutorial on Youtube yet, but it’s on my list for this week — this one costs a few cents to make and can travel in your pocket.
Design is not my strong suit, and I’ve typically been more than happy to do the bare minimum. Lately I’ve been branching out a little more, though, and I’ve found the first two items in this section especially helpful.
- I can’t remember who first linked me to Creative Market’s Free Goods of the Week. Was it you? If so, thank you. Every week, Creative Market puts up six items — it could be backgrounds, Photoshop brushes, graphics packs, WordPress themes, pretty much anything — totally free to download and use for all kinds of ventures. Worth noting, though, is that sometimes the file’s creator will have licensing info in the downloads that contradicts the Creative Market licensing, which allows for commercial use. While the Creative Market licensing should technically supersede the creator’s license (since the creator would have to agree to their TOS to list the item), it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
- Canva is my current favourite thing. It has a huge variety of elements you can use to design graphics for pretty much anything. Many of their layouts and elements require payment, but you can easily make fantastic-looking things with their free items, especially if you’re uploading your own images into the templates. (Make sure to check out their TOS, which has a plain English summary alongside the legal jargon — there may be restrictions if you’re using stock media, even the free items.)
- I’ve often heard GIMP referred to as a lesser, but free, Photoshop, at least in terms of editing photographs. This is an awesome guide to moving from Photoshop to GIMP, and includes some tips that’ll improve your experience even if you’ve never used either before.
- If you need inspiration for colour, check out Design Seeds, a site that posts beautiful palettes alongside the photography that inspired them.
Via Design Seeds, which — it’s worth noting — has really clear, easy-to-follow terms for sharing their images on your blog, as any creator who does want their images shared will have. Seriously, guys, stop sharing things all willy-nilly, hoping for the best, and then recommending others do the same.
To conclude, in the words of one of my favourite characters: CONSTANT VIGILANCE. If you’re not sure about something, don’t use it. If you are sure about something, you probably still shouldn’t use it — at least not without doing a little detective work. And if you can’t be bothered to do the detective work, you need to make your own things instead.
I’ll be doing a little bit of that detective work for you in a post next week, so check back!
Note: This post hasn’t been sponsored in any way — these are all things that I either find useful or think someone out there might.