One of the main reasons a visitor to your website or blog will return is visual impact. You can achieve this by using images which make the page flow better or communicate your ideas. But where do you find the images you want?
First of all, ask yourself this. Is it perfectly OK to copy someone else's picture and incorporate it in your website or blog? In short, the answer is NO. If you have not paid for an image or been granted permission to use it on your website or blog then you are really leaving yourself open to possible legal proceedings against you.
A misconception, held by many, is that images on Flickr are free for use. This makes Flickr one of the most abused sites on the web. I say abused because despite what you may think most of the images posted to Flickr are not for use, whether that is for personal or professional use. Of course it's not only Flickr, there are hundreds of thousands of images to be found on other websites which are freely being used without permission. When anyone uploads an image to Flickr, it immediately becomes subject to copyright, which is held by the uploader. Typically, that is the default setting for all uploads to Flickr.
I should point out at this time I am not a lawyer, Copyright Law as it applies to digital images can be very complicated, even from country to country, but the general interpretation of copyright is "If you took the photo or created the image, then you own the copyright ". If ever in doubt about copyright seek proper legal advice, you could save yourself a lot of hassle later.
You might say "No one will find out"? Do not be so sure. Nowadays even a simple search of Google images can produce results for photographers. More importantly, a simple tool called TinEye, although still in it's infancy, is beginning to make it even easier for photographers to find who's using their images on the internet. At the moment TinEye still does not have an index of every image on the web but it is typically adding to it's database all the time.
What exactly is TinEye? It's a reverse image search engine. When someone submits an image to be searched, TinEye creates a unique and compact digital signature or fingerprint for it, then compares this fingerprint to every other image in it's index to retrieve matches. TinEye can even find a partial fingerprint match. TinEye does not typically find similar images (ie a different image with the same subject matter); it finds exact matches including those that have been cropped, edited or resized. There are many uses for TinEye, but here are a few:
- Find out where an image came from, or get more information about it
- Research or track the appearance of an image online
- Find higher resolution versions of an image
- Locate web pages that make use of an image you have created
- Discover modified or edited versions of an image
As I said earlier, not all images seen in Flickr are free for use. However, Flickr does contain a wide variety of images with different licenses. Many photographers make their images available under the Creative Commons License, just search for Creative Commons. Usually these images are free to use but you must check the license to confirm how you may use the image. For example, not all licenses allow their photos to be used commercially. Visit the Creative Commons website for details on image licenses. You can also use Google to find photos with a free license. Go to 'advanced options' and choose images that are 'labeled for reuse / commercial reuse'. Be careful though when using images obtained from 3rd party sources, like those offering free images. If those images have not been licensed correctly, the company or photographer that owns them could sue YOU.
Another source of images that can be used are "Stock Photo" websites, some of which are free. To be really safe use sites that sell images, or more correctly, they sell you a right to use an image on your site. Always check though what cover they have in place if you use one of their images and get sued, because it is later found to be subject to copyright.
If you look at free sites then consider one like SXC which has a vast library of photos and a reasonably strict uploading system, thenby lowering the chance that you'll download and use an image that is stolen. There are other free sites on the web, as always, be cautious when using unknown sites, which may offer images without the author's permission.
Finally, I can not stress this enough. Always consider the source of any image that you use from the internet. Just because someone slaps a Creative Commons label on a photo does not mean that they own the photo or even understand what the label means.