All About Using Images

4 minute read

So, you’ve lovingly tapped out ‘The End’ at the bottom of your masterpiece. Huffing a breath of relief that you’ve done it: your word baby is born and you want to release it to the world. Pass out the cigars.

Post it to Writer’s Carnival for review! Submit it to your favorite e-zine (oh, I dunno, say, Reader’s Carnival)! Post it to your blog! Facebook! Tweet it! Pin it!

You think the world is your oyster, then reality hits. No one picks it up. It doesn’t go viral. Into the Bit Bucket of Doom, your darling falls. Your heart breaks and you feel like maybe this writing thing is not for you.

It’s at that point, I walk in and put on a pot of coffee and try to sober you up. After your seventh cup, we start to have a reasonably intelligent discussion.

“Jeepers, you really take this stuff hard! Fret not, fearless quill-bearer! It’s a wee smidgen of gussying up you need, that’s all,” I say pointing to the goose-egg next to the little ‘Like’ button.

“Whatever, dude. You some wizard?” you ask.

“Nope, it’s Marketing 101. A menu sells that steak because of its appeal to the senses long before the taste. See the juicy picture! Imagine the sizzle and savoury wonderment. Oh yeah, you’re there. I’m hungry now.”

“Me too.”

“You see, great art and photography can make or break the stickiness and ‘shareaucity’ of a post. It just does. Text-based Facebook posts go ignored. You can’t even post to Pinterest without a cool pic.”

“Damn it, Doug. I’m an author, not a photographer!” you say in your best ‘Leonard McCoy’.

“Google is your friend,” I reply. “But there are some rules. Ya can’t steal.”

“But if it’s on the Interweb, it’s free, right?”

“No,” I say and put my arm around your shoulder. “You have much to learn…”

It should be pretty obvious that the best art or photography to add to your written work is something you create yourself. It’s yours. Most of us suck pretty bad at drawing, but taking a photo with your phone and cropping it is surprisingly effective. It really should be your first option. Here’s a couple starting points:

Either that or pay a fee for access to a stock photography site. That’s what professional marketers and for-profit enterprises do. You’re rich, right, Mister Moneybags?

Anyway, if you fail to heed this, then you’ll need to know a few things about how copyright works on the Internet.

First off, copyright is automatic in most countries. You don’t even have to put on a copyright stamp. The only reason I can fathom to register a copyright is to give money to a government agency or to a lawyer if you wish to sue. Copyright, by itself, does not prevent theft, and only you can prevent forest fires.

If you were to go to http://images.google.com and look for art, you’ll have absolutely no trouble finding something and you may be tempted to just use it. Many people do. However, it’s wrong. We know that in our hearts. One approach is to hunt down the artist and ask permission to use the work. Some artists want compensation, others just want attribution. It’s confusingly inconsistent though.

Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org) has made some very good strides at plain-language licensing. They offer 6 different licenses for artists to use:

  • CC BY: Attribution (linking to the artist and/or work, do what you like with it)
  • CC BY-SA: Attribution, ShareAlike (you must license your derived work the same)
  • CC BY-NC: Attribution, Non-Commercial (modify as needed, cant be used for commercial purposes)
  • CC BY-ND: Attribution, No-Derivatives (can't alter the work, must be kept whole)
  • CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike
  • CC BY-NC-ND: Attribution, Non-Commercial, No-Derivatives

Here’s the sticky-wicket: the definition of ‘Non-Commercial’ is somewhat loosely defined and left to the artist’s discretion. Generally speaking, if you’re making money off your work directly or indirectly, then it’s commercial.

How it plays out is that:

  • For a blog, you can often get away with using images tagged CC BY-NC (biggest selection).
  • If you are selling something, then you should aim for CC BY.
  • If you have ads on your site, some put this in a gray area. You may opt for CC-BY to be 100% clean .
  • If you are sourcing images for a printed book, then the NC licensed works are off-limits.

Clear as mud? Cool.

Now, not every image on the Internet has a CC license. In fact, most don’t. Individual artists may have different license models. The majority of images have nothing defined, but remember that copyright is assumed and using work without permission puts you at risk. The sharing of unattributed images on Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest is alarming.

A common etiquette employed on the web is that, if the license is not defined, you can use the guidelines of CC BY-NC-ND, that is: use it unmodified for non-commercial purposes and provide a link to the artist’s site. Another nicety is to comment on the their site that you used their work and provide the link to where you did. Most times, the artist is happy for the exposure. If not, you don’t use it. Simple as that.

Note also that ignorance is no excuse. It’s rarely the case that ‘Artist Unknown’ is acceptable. Google provides a facility where you can upload an image and search Google for the source. Go to http://images.google.com and click the little gray camera that says ‘search by image’.  It’s worth that extra little step.

Here’s some places where you can find some properly licensed art and photography:

Photo by PaSt1978

NOTE: This post also appears at WC Writing TipsWriters Helping Writers & East Coast Creative.

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