Looking for great photos for your blog or social media site — without spending much cash? Good news from Silicon Valley this week: Wired.com staff-produced are now available in high-resolution format under a Creative Commons license on a newly launched public Flickr stream.
The Creative Commons license turns 10 years old next year, and the simple idea of releasing content with “some rights reserved” has revolutionized online sharing and fueled a thriving remix culture. (CC is a nonprofit and you can contribute to their annual campaign: http://creativecommons.net/donate.)
The CC BY-NC license that Wired is offering means that the images are free for all to republish, with minor restrictions:
- Photos must be attributed to the photographer and copyright holder, and, if used online, a link back to the site where the photo first appeared is usually required. (Wired takes this a step further, and requires a link back to the story where the photo was originally published.)
- Commercial use (advertising, collateral, flyers, posters, T-shirts, etc.) is prohibited.
- Remixes and mash-ups are allowed.
This image shows two weeks of post headlines & illustrations from The Distributed Marketing Blog (which I edit at work). Sources for the images, clockwise from upper left, are: A photo I took of my 10-year-old grandson, a chart I created, a licensed cartoon ($12), a free cartoon, a scanner image of my husband’s hand, and a photo my granddaughter took of her dog Jasmine.
I use a lot of great art on this blog and even more on The Distributed Marketing Blog (the blog I edit at work). So one of the most common questions I get from other bloggers or even from casual friends is, “Where do you get your photographs and cartoons?” The gallery above shows two weeks’ worth of post headlines and artwork, along with the source of each image.
But before I share some of my favorite sources for great illustrations, here’s a list of places I avoid: the forbidden sources that can get you (or me) into legal trouble. Unless you contact the copyright holder in advance, and get written permission to use their image, don’t use images from:
- Other blogs
- Google or Bing searches
- Magazines or websites
- Twitpix, Facebook, or any other social media site
- Flickr, PhotoBucket or other sharing site UNLESS the image offers a Creative Commons license
I write a lot about copyright law in my books and on this blog, so I have to take extra care because I have a target painted on my back. (I would anyway, since I believe strongly in a creator’s rights to profit from their creativity.) If you remember nothing else from this blog post, memorize this: just because something is posted on the Internet and you can right-click on it to save it doesn’t give you the right to republish it on your blog — even if you credit the original source.
If you remember just two things, add this to your memory bank: publishing photos of identifiable people requires their advance written permission unless they are public figures photographed in a public place. And even if you have permission to use the photo, you can’t use it in a way that makes the person look bad unless the article specifically applies to that person and is provably true. So if you’re writing a blog post about the bad customer service you got at a hotel, and you find a Creative Commons licensed photo on Flickr of a hotel clerk, you can still get into trouble for using the image if a reasonable person might infer that the bad customer service experience happened with THIS person at THIS hotel, when it did not.
Six Great Sources for Legal Images
- Photographs that you take yourself, or photographs that friends give you written permission to use. A digital camera and some creativity will take you a long way – people love photos of children, dogs, and unusual landscapes, and they lend themselves to a lot of different posts. You do need model releases unless the person shown is a public figure. My son, Geoff McAlister is a professional stunt man. He’s often in costume, on movie sets, practicing horseback stunts or just travelling to interesting places with interesting people, so he’s a frequent and popular “guest” on my blog and in my collateral. So are my dogs. Several of my grandchildren have also posed for me over the years. This is absolutely the safest route for any blogger — your dog won’t sue you, and neither will the produce from your refrigerator used to illustrate a post about the importance of comparing apples to apples in product reviews.
- Photographs or illustrations that are available under a Creative Commons License through Flickr, Morgue File, or other legal photo sharing sites. Flickr tip: Always use the “Advanced Search” feature and check the Commercial Use, Creative Commons boxes, and always include the required photo credits. See the caveat above about the context in which a photo is used.
- Free cartoons available from sites like agent-x.com.au, cartoonaday.com, sangrea.net, or Flickr. Some truly amazing cartoonists like Scott Hampson of Agent-X.com, and the comic geniuses behind Geek and Poke allow their work to be used under Creative Commons licenses — and it’s fabulous. So use it, and remember to say thanks with a by-line and a photo credit that links back to their blog or website.
- Cartoons and photos for which I have purchased a license. Only about 10% of the items I publish were purchased. Cartoonstock, iStock, Getty – you name it, I’ve probably bought something there at some time or another.
- Graphics I create myself – charts, graphs, icons from our marketing collateral, clip-art. I don’t own a copy of any graphics program – I use PowerPoint or Excel, drop the chart into Paint, and save it out as a vector file I can scale for the blog. These can be fast, easy, eye-catching, and free.
- PR photos provided by other marketers. (This means I download them legally from the “Press Room” section of a company’s website, or I contact a PR firm or company and ask for a photo to use to illustrate a story.) If I ask for permission, I’m careful to tell them where I plan to use it, and the headline of the story to be illustrated by the photo. Sometimes they say “no”, but I’ve been in this business for many years, and I can usually find a friend who will say “yes” so long as I am up front about how I will use the image.
All that great art helps (a lot) with SEO, traffic, and subscriptions. Photos are also a big factor in helping online content “go viral”. One caveat: if the art overwhelms the text, your bounce rate may go up. (A bounce rate measures how much time people spend on your blog or website.) So keep the images relevant to your content.