Understanding Image Rights For Social Media

October 17, 2012


Finding photos for use in online articles, blog posts and other online marketing efforts can be a source of frustration for many. Questions arise about rights, fair use and attribution. There are several resources available to find photos, and understanding creative commons, editorial use and attribution will help you navigate and find a photo while following the law.

Creative Commons

Online photo sharing sites like Flickr, Fotopedia and MorgueFile allow photographers to designate their photos with a Creative Commons License, which allow others to use their photos. This is an incredible resource to online marketers and writers, but there are a few things to watch for:

Finding photos to use

Make sure your image search criteria are set to only find photos with this license. For example, when using Flickr, make sure to check the appropriate boxes in the “Advanced Search” area:

Double check the license

Photographers are able to set different levels of sharing; some may allow you to alter the image and some may just allow use with proper attribution. Make sure you’re clear on what you’re allowed to do.

Proper attribution

Most photographers ask for credit with use of their photo. The proper way to do this is “Photo: [photographer name], Creative Commons 2.0 [or applicable license].” If possible, link the photographer’s name to the URL of the photo online. This information can be put under the photo in an article or you can put it in the bottom corner of the photo.

Stock Photography

There are affordable and high quality photos on stock photo sites like istockphoto.com and shutterstock.com. If you are unsure of finding and crediting a photo, going this route is one way to ensure you can use the photo and manipulate it to your liking. Make sure to read the licensing rules with each photo you purchase; occasionally there will be photos that are only available for a one-time use. Free stock photo sites are out there, but those databases are much smaller and usually of lesser quality.

Editorial Use

Photos marked with “Editorial Use Only” allow use of the image to support or accompany an article, but are not to be used for commercial purposes and to help sell or promote your brand/product. These photos are often of copyrighted products (like Apple) or people who have not given permission and authorized the photo (sports figures, celebrities).

For example, acceptable use would be using a photo of an iPhone to talk about new phones on the market. Unacceptable use would be to use the photo of the iPhone to promote your mobile site.

Personal Photos

If you have a talent for photography, using your own photos is a safe way to go, and attribution isn’t required unless you want to credit yourself. When using your own photos, make sure you pay attention to the people you’re photographing and any other images that happen to appear in your photo.


If your article is for editorial use, signed releases aren’t required from the individuals pictures. If the photo will be used in advertising and marketing materials, the models must grant permission. Model releases should be kept on hand when doing photo shoots, for this purpose.

Logos and things

Corporate logos, cartoon characters, company names and devices all carry risk since those items are copyrighted or trademarked material. Be sure to leave those out!

Sourcing photos for your online marketing efforts doesn’t have to be a challenge! Just be sure to do your research, only use images you know are safe to use and properly credit when necessary. When it comes to sourcing photos and content marketing in general, it’s important to play by the rules.

Do you have any image sourcing tips you can share? Leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.


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  • Reply Miguel Salcido October 17, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Great post topic that really needs to be read by everyone. This is such a sticky subject. It seems like the standards are pretty loose right now regarding image use. Its just so hard to track. I have plans to lean more on taking our own photos moving forward.

    • Reply @Melonie October 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      So true. There are a lot of good resources out there for stock images.

  • Reply Kimberly Rotter October 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Good post.

    Another good resource for free and legal images is http://www.sxc.hu/.

    • Reply @Melonie October 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      Great one. I’ve come across it but haven’t used it yet. I will have to try it out.

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