Recent statistics show that over 85% of the photos used online are subject of copyright infringement.
Are you sure you’re not a thief?
How many of you have ever grabbed a photo from a Google Image search to use on your website?
Don’t look now, but odds are you just accidentally committed an act of theft – in the USA, almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not.
Soooooo…Google Images is out, so where on earth can you find cool photos that are safe to use without going broke?
The free option – Creative Commons
Creative Commons is a type of license developed back in 2002 for creatives who wanted to license their work, for free, for certain uses. The “for certain uses” part is the kicker, as many of the images licensed under Creative Commons are not available for commercial use.
If you’re reading this, odds are you’re writing a blog for business purposes, not just to post cute pics of your Yorkshire terrier. Therefore, finding the ones that ARE licensed for commercial use can be daunting and confusing – unless you know how to look.
You can visit CreativeCommons.org and search right on their site for licensed works – and when you get to the search screen, it’s safest to make sure both boxes are checked, as shown below:
You can also use the Photodropper plugin for WordPress, which I use on my own site – again, the first time you use it, be sure to answer “Yes” to the question “Does your site make money?”
Photodropper is cool because it will handle the attribution piece for you – you can choose where it appears – in a caption on the photo itself, at the bottom of your post, or in a PHP tag. I always have it appear at the bottom of my post so it doesn’t distract from the message up top.
Also, it will drop the image right into the media handler on WordPress – no bothering to save it to your hard drive and then dig it up again to embed.
There are lots of other plugins and “helpers” out there, but so far I like Photodropper the best.
Finding good “free” images is tricky – if they were all wonderful, they would probably cost money. Also, it’s difficult to put in a keyword and get a lot of relevant choices because the creators have no financial incentive to keyword them well.
Pros: No cost
Cons: Quality can be low, searches difficult, have to be vigilant for a commercial-use license and give proper attribution
Update: MorgueFile for free images
Thanks to legal tech blogger David Whelan, who turned me on to MorgueFile.com in the comments. At quick first glance it looks like a great free resource for images of exceptional quality. I already fell in love with this one and I’m sure I’ll come up with some silly excuse to use it!
The paid option – royalty free stock images
I admit it – I’m an image snob – we ran a commercial photography studio for many years, and I’m a sucker for clean, well-lit images to complement my own website. So…more often than not, I’ll spend up to 5 minutes looking for a Creative Commons image to satisfy the frugal angel on my shoulder, and then I go looking for a sharp-looking stock image to buy. If you’re not careful about this, though, you can go broke real fast.
Image Specs for stock photos
If you’re just looking for something to spice up your blog post, the X-Small image on any stock agency’s website will do just fine. You only have to look at the larger versions for web design or print work.
So – if you’re comparing price, compare the smallest image available on each site, and notice the pixel dimensions offered. Usually anything more than 300 px max in either direction is wasted on a blog post, unless you’re making the picture the story.
This can get pretty tricky, as a lot of agencies like to sell bundles of “credits,” just like at the video arcade. And the more you buy at one time, the slightly cheaper each one gets. Plus, when you’re looking at credits, it’s like calculating prices in a foreign country – “Let’s see, if that’s 24 Euros, then in dollars that is…”
Luckily a lot of agencies are now offering a one-off price, and sometimes you just have to look for the tab on a particular image’s pricing grid to click over to it.
Pro tip: NEVER pay more than $3 for a single image for a blog post. Try to keep it to $2 if you can, but that could mean investing in a credit pack.
Which agencies to use
There are a TON of microstock agencies out there now. The most famous is iStockphoto, which we used for years. We no longer use them if we can avoid it, because (a) their prices became outrageous (b) their X-Small is way smaller than other agencies offer and (c) they’re owned by Getty Images.
If you want to have some fun, just Google “Getty Images lawsuit” and read about how they’re going after the little guy with shock and awe tactics. Some of the defendants are infringers, but an awful lot of them aren’t.
We like BigStockPhoto.com these days – their smallest images are huge compared to iStock’s, and their selection has finally caught up enough to be really usable. I’m aware there are many others out there, but you can make yourself crazy scouring the web for the perfect images, so it’s good to just set some parameters. If you buy credits, you can get the smallest images on BigStock for well under $2 apiece.
Photodropper is an option now, too, because they’ve started offering premium (paid) images on the right-hand side of their search results if you sign up for an account. However, you have to get on a monthly plan with them that gives you a set number of image credits, and I am not amused by that. Some months we spend a lot on stock and some months we spend nearly nothing. Their premium selection is still not up there with the big boys either. Nonetheless, it’s there for those who wish to use it and take advantage of the “drop it right in” functionality Photodropper offers.
Pros: High quality choices, more relevant searches
Cons: Cost can add up over time if you produce a lot of content
Ultimately, the choice is up to you about whether to go the free (but legal) route or the $2/image route. Either way, though, you’re accomplishing two things: preserving your moral integrity and protecting your business from copyright infringement claims.
Cynthia LaLuna is the Creative Director for Rowboat Media.