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When Do You Need to Be Concerned About Copyright for Online Images?

When do you need to be concerned about copyright for online images?

Remember when you were a kid and wanted to be cool. You tried to wear the right clothes, begged your mom to buy the “it” shoes and made sure your hair was in style. You tried so hard. Then one day you find yourself hanging with the cool kids! You wonder how this happened, but you bask in your coolness and try to keep a low profile.

But then, those same kids decide to do something that makes your stomach turn a bit. You try to justify it. You think, “All the cool kids are doing it.” But, deep down you know it’s wrong, and you have to speak up. This blog post is my adult equivalent to this scenario. And let’s face it. Talking about copyright for online images is never a popular topic.

Copyright for Online Images

First, let’s get this out of the way: Anything I write in this blog post is not legal advice and should not be taken as such. I am not an attorney. If you have questions, you should consult your lawyer.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let’s proceed. After diving head-first into the social media world, I am seeing a trend. One that I believe is against the law, yet all the cool kids seem to be doing it. I see people EVERYDAY using images illegally on social media (and sometimes even on their blog posts).

I know. That is a big scary word. However, this is a topic that you do not want to ignore. A cease and desist letter is the last thing you want to deal with in your entrepreneurial world.

What is Copyright?

To begin, lets discuss exactly what copyright is. According to  copyright is “the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.” Essentially what this means, for the sake of this post, is that any picture or image that someone else takes or created is copyrighted. Which means you are not allowed to use it unless you have written, explicit permission. The exception to this rule is if an image qualifies under “fair use,” such as you would find on a free stock image site. 

So, if you take someone’s picture from Instagram and post it on your account you are stealing. Even if you give them credit. Same goes for Facebook, or any online platform. That image you found on Pinterest and used in your post—illegal.

Recently, I was definitely not the cool kid as I was compelled to bring this up to an online community I am a part of. These are some the responses I received:

  • People thank me when I use their images.
  • Everyone is doing it.
  • If someone gets mad, I will just take it down.
  • I am giving the author credit.

My Answer

I will tell you what I told them. That’s nice, but you are still infringing on copyright law. You can still be sued, even if you take the image down.

The first rebuttal, “People thank me when I use their images,” I believe. We are all vying for online attention. Most photographers will not care if you use their image (notice how I said MOST). It only takes one person or business to sue you and make your life a nightmare. Yes, this really happens.

And I don’t disagree with the second point, “Everyone is doing it.” It is frustrating for those of us who are playing by the rules to see others stealing images and gaining traction and making sales from it. However, realize that there is an inherit risk.

For the third point, even if you take down the image you can still be sued. End of point.

And last, but not least, giving the author credit is not enough. If they have not given you specific permission, you are still in violation.

So, you are probably thinking, “What should I do?” The answer is simple—ASK. (I must like this solution. This was my answer in another blog post about obtaining customer reviews!) If you like an image that you see, simply email, DM or ask in a comment if they would allow you to use their image if you give them credit. That’s it. Take a screen shot if you are doing this over a social media channel just in case. If you are asking a photographer or account holder who you think you might want to use more than one image in the future, ask them if you can use their images in the future with credit. You may consider engaging with them a little prior to asking. We all do business with those we know, like and trust!

The last thing I will mention is to make sure if someone else is running your social media accounts, be sure to ask them if they know this information. I will say that most people do not realize that simply giving credit for an image is not enough.


As much as this topic is one you may not want to hear about, I do not want anyone to get into trouble. Being party to a lawsuit is no one’s idea of a fun time. The good news is that you can avoid a bad situation by always asking for permission. Don’t forget to get it in writing!

Have you joined my email list yet? I would love to keep in touch with you via email. Don’t worry. I will only send you stuff that I would want in my in-box. Plus, as a thank you to subscribing to my upcoming newsletters I will give you FIVE free images you can use worry-free! Also, if you haven’t had a chance, be sure to like my Facebook & Instagram pages for more social media tips and content ideas!


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