Are you at risk of getting sued?

One of the fastest ways I’ve built my following on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest etc.  is by sharing photography quotes and inspirational photos.

Using gorgeous eye candy photos instantly stops people in their tracks and makes them pay attention to your message.

But did you know that you cannot just download any image you find online and use it on your website or social media posts without checking it’s available under fair use? If you’re not sure what this means, let me explain why you can get into major legal trouble by using someone else’s photos.

You may have to pay a lawyer to get you out of ‘image theft jail’ even if you accidentally used an image, or didn’t know who the copyright owner was.

This is one of the reasons I decided to create my Patreon PARTNER program. By using my photos I’ve personally photographed, and that I’ve granted you the license to use, you’ll avoid any such legal issues.

Another benefit of being a partner!

Let’s look at what the different image licensing means for you and how you can find images you can use legally.

When you infringe the intellectual property rights of a copyright owner (photographer, creator, designer) you are in fact breaking the law. This often happens unknowingly, for example, you see a great image on Google and proceed to download it and use it on your website or social media.

The problem lies in the understanding of who owns the copyright. Just because an image is made available on the Internet does NOT make it a free for all who want to use it.

At the moment of creation the person doing the creating acquires the copyright and ownership of the creative works. This means at the moment the photographer presses the button to capture an image, he/she is the said owner, and therefore has rights to it’s protection no matter where or when it is made available for public view.

There are some images however that aren’t subject to copyright, and there are three potential reasons for this. The first reason is that the image is so old that the copyright no longer applies. The second reason is that the photo was taken by a government branch, and therefore belongs to the public. The thirdly, and perhaps most common reason on the web, is that the original artist gave up his or her copyright and has made it available for public use.

Having been a professional photographer for 15 years I can’t tell you how many times my photography work has been pirated, copied and used without my consent and without any compensation. As an artist, my creations are my lifeblood so if someone knocks off my photos and uses them for their own gain, I see it as stealing. It’t that simple. And the law agrees with me too!

A familiar story is the one of the website owner who creates a website and needs images to compliment the design. Often than not, an inexperienced website designer or writer will think it’s okay to grab any image off Google and insert it into the page. Contrary to popular belief, there is a way to track down who is illegally using images and they WILL find you!

My husband, who owns an online magazine, had this exact scenario play out before him. Unbeknown to him his writers were pirating images off Goggle without obtaining the license, or attributing the license under each image. Months later my husband received a hefty bill in the mail and a court summons, he was being sued! In his defense, he was not aware of the actions of his employees until it was too late. But the lawyer didn’t care, it was cough up or go to court.


To avoid you having to experience the same story and painful experience of paying pricey legal fees, I suggest you stick to the legal side of the copyright law and only use images you have rights to use.

Here is an explanation of the different types of licensing options….

Creative Commons
The most common free license in use on the Internet today is the Creative Commons set of licenses. Individuals wanting to use this license can choose from a number of conditions, including that a given photo cannot by used commercially. As such, finding a photo licensed by Creative Commons does not necessarily mean you have the right to use the photo.

The good news is that anything licensed by Creative Commons is clearly labeled, with a link to the terms of the license for those looking to use the photo.

Attribution Attribution (by)
All CreativeCommons licenses require that others who use the work in any way must give the creator credit the way they request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use. If the creator wants to allow their work to be used without the creator credit, or for endorsement purposes, the creator must give their explicit permission first.

ShareAlike ShareAlike (sa)
The creator allows others to copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify their work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If you want to distribute modified works under other terms, you must get the creators permission first.

NonCommercial NonCommercial (nc)
The creator allows others to copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you they have chosen NoDerivatives) modify and use their work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get the creators permission first.

NoDerivatives NoDerivatives (nd)
The creators allows others to copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify the work, the user must get the creators permission first.

Royalty Free
A Royalty-free licensing method covers image rights that are sold at a flat rate for almost all purposes. Royalty-free licensing became popular with the rise of digital image distribution, and today the vast majority of stock images are licensed as royalty-free. Royalty-free imagery offers buyers both greater flexibility and affordability than rights-managed as you pay once and you’re done.

***Become my PARTNER and enjoy the benefits of royalty free image license usage.

Rights-managed licensing
This is when an image license is priced based on how the image will be used. Rights-managed licenses usually come with usage restrictions, including length of time, regions, image size, and more. This particularly relates to use of an image on for example a book, where the number of copies printed will determine the price to be paid for it’s usage.

GNU Public License
Typically a software license, the GNU Public License (GPL) is frequently used to license photographs on the Internet particularly at Wikipedia. This license is long but what it means is easy to understand: you can use and alter this photos as you see fit, provided the creator releases their work under the same terms and includes mention of its license. This means most GPL pictures aren’t useful for larger corporate blogs but just might work perfectly for some smaller websites.

Public Domain
Public domain is a free-for-all, meaning you can do with the photo as you will. This is true of pretty much every photo older than one hundred years old, depending on where you are in the world. It’s also true of any photo produced by the US and other government departments. This means any picture produced by NASA, for example, can be used without any concern for copyright at all.

Royalty free photos in the public domain are clearly labeled as such, but may not be public in your country even if it is listed as such. Be sure to read up on your country’s copyright laws before making use of public domain photos.

Some of my favorite resources for finding images you can use legally for purchase or for free are:

Getty Images
Etsy Stock
Wikimedia Commons