17 December 2013

Author Online: Spiffing it Up with Images and Art

(c) Graphic Stock.
Here's the second article in my series Author Online, where I share with you what I've learned over the years as someone who's designed and maintained my own author website.

This is probably my favorite thing about blogging design--using images and artwork to spruce up the website as well as blog posts. I love playing around with these things and I'm happy to share with you some of my sources.

But first...


I'm not a lawyer and I don't have any legal training whatsoever, so if you want 100% clearance and understanding on the subject of copyright, you must consult someone in the legal profession. What I can share with you is my own personal experience navigating copyright while securing images for my site. 

Some key things to know:
  • A work is automatically copyrighted upon its creation.
  • The creator of the work is the owner of the copyright.
  • You must have written permission from the copyright holder to use his or her work. 
"But wait," you say, "people on the internet do BLAH BLAH BLAH for images" or something to that effect. Let me press this upon you: Most of the people on the internet are breaking copyright laws on nearly every level. Some of them are unaware because they don't understand the rules, but most of them know they didn't bother to do the right thing. Just because they haven't been "caught" doesn't mean they won't.

(c) Graphic Stock
Content thieves can really destroy an artist or author's livelihood when they help themselves to someone else's creation. People who steal images are taking the hard work and hours the creator has spent and spitting in the face of that effort. It's how artists and writers are taken advantage of when they're told they have to work for free because there's a precedent of work being stolen or automatically assumed it is free to the public simply because it exists. 

Let's break this down further. You have your image and:
  • You downloaded it from Google Image search.  
  • You right-clicked on your mouse and "saved as" to use the image.
  • You couldn't right-click and save so you took a screen shot of the image.
  • You put the image on your site by using the "picture from URL" function (hotlinking).
  • You wrote "Image from ___" and credited the website where you found the picture.
  • You wrote "Artwork is not mine. Credit goes to original artist." 
  • You wrote, "Art by ____" and listed the original artist's name. (You should automatically be doing this no matter what, anyway!)
  • You wrote, "Image is Fair Use because I do not profit from this." 
Guess what: ALL OF THE ABOVE IS STILL STEALING!!!!!! Why? You did not get written permission from the artist to use his or her work.   

In some instances, the artist is easy to contact for permissions because they've provided direct information in order to do so. But for the most part, requesting copyright permission directly with the artist is perceived as being a challenge or inconvenience. 

Thank goodness for licenses, right? 

Licenses are the "written permission from the artist" you get to see right up front when you wish to secure images that aren't your own. Probably the most user-friendly licenses out there are Creative Commons Licenses.  Creative Commons is an actual nonprofit organization that decided to make the web a more accessible place for everyone by using plain-English licenses. These licenses permit the public to use certain works without having to financially compensate the people who created them. Or, in their own words, "Creative Commons is a non-profit that offers an alternative to full copyright."

Just because Creative Commons Licensing gives you the access to free images does not mean you can forgo the rules listed with each type of license. The license chosen will specify whether or not a work can be altered, commercialized, published, or transmitted, and you have to follow these rules. By using a CC-licensed work, you are making a legal agreement to adhere to the images' specific requirements. Failure to do so pretty much takes you right back to the level of stealing, for which there are consequences.

Probably a major item overlooked when using a CC-licensed work is that the artist maintains their original rights. Which means, even if you do 100% of what the license requires of you, the artist still has the right to order you to remove their content.

IN ALL CASES: As long as the artist owns the copyright, they can grant and revoke the rights to their images as they see fit.

The other type of image licensing is the kind you receive when you actually purchase an image from a resources like iStock, Getty Images, Shutterstock, etc. When you purchase an image from a royalty-free stock site, you pay a one-time fee to use the image per the rules listed in the license. There are licenses for commercial use as well as personal use, and there are licenses that dictate how often you can use an image in a work. The nice thing about these websites is you can pick and choose exactly what you need to do--the point is, know what you're looking for and what you plan to do with it.

Now that you have (I hope!) a better understanding of copyright and licensing, let's dive into how and where you can secure images!


Creative Commons Images

  • Creative Commons has a special search feature that allows you to choose CC-licensed images from a wide variety of internet sources, like Flickr, Fotopedia, and Google Images.
The licensing can be found in the right-hand
corner on the screen, near the comments.
  • Wikimedia Commons is another wonderful resource, containing both CC-licensed as well as public domain media files that anyone can use. 
  • Deviant Art is a great resource for original artwork and photography. Unfortunately there is no specific search option for CC-licensed content; you'll have to use their search engine only to look up content by topic. To see whether or not a work is under full copyright or a CC-license, you will have to click on the image, then look for the licensing information included in the Details and Stats section of the gallery. If it is CC-licensed, it'll look like the screenshot I've posted (source). If not, it will have a traditional (c) symbol with the phrase, All Rights Reserved. Which means, as awesome as the art is, you can't use it unless you contact the artist and ask for written permission.
Free Images

  • The Library of Congress offers the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for scholars and artists. A quick word of note, though--the LOC cannot formally state that the images are public domain, but they are available free for use and for downloading. Here's where you can find their explanation on the rights to the works. 
  • Unsplash.com offers absolutely beautiful high-resolution photographs for free. Created by the Montreal design company ooomf, these images definitely add a bit of artsiness to your blog.

Royalty-Free Image Sites with Freebies

What do I mean by "with freebies"? Each of the sites listed below are ones of which I am a member (although I'm positive there are more stock companies out there who do this). Just for joining the website (no purchase necessary) and signing up for email notifications, I get FREE high-quality images sent to me, as frequently as once-a-week. I download every image they send to me just so I have it (they're only free for a limited time) because I never know when I might need to use one of them in a post. Once I download them, I have the licensed rights to them.

(c) Graphic Stock
The rest of the images on these sites can be purchased directly a la carte, as part of a monthly payment plan, or through a credit-purchase plan. It is fun to get free artwork from these websites, too, but I've also purchased the rights to many other images. The quality and selections on stock websites are tough to rival and they've published such beautiful content that I've had no qualms about spending a little money here and there. Sign up for the freebies, but stay and support your fellow artists. 

  • Graphic Stock is one of the newest kids on the block and I absolutely love them. Right now they're running a one-week trial membership where you can download 20 images a day for free for a full seven days. They usually offer special deals for new customers around the time the free trial is about to end that discounts a monthly or yearly membership. If you forget to cancel your membership, though, it's $49 a month for unlimited downloads and they auto-deduct it. Can you tell I'm speaking from experience? I forgot to cancel my free trial and when it expired, $49 flew from my account (I'm a part-time minimum wage worker who can't afford a $49 per month membership). But since the month was already paid for, I've been downloading images like crazy and I have to say, I love a lot of what they have to offer.  When you pay the normal membership fee, the downloads are absolutely, 100% unlimited. I'm loading up right before I cancel, and maybe when I can afford it, I'll rejoin.
  • Thinkstock by Getty Images pulls an arsenal of photos and illustrations from both the Getty Images and iStock sites (and affiliates) and offers them to you as part of a monthly plan or credit pack plan. Just for creating an account and signing up for emails, you get access to the free image of the week.
  • iStock is one of the major stock resources on the web, filled with tons of incredible images that are easily searchable by price range, topic, image type (photo, vector illustration, etc). Once again, when you create an account and get their emails, you get access to free media of the week
  • Shutterstock is another top-notch resource. I haven't spent any money with them (yet) but I think they've offered the best freebies out of all of the sites so far. You get one vector illustration and one photograph each week, and they're often variations of a specific theme, which is quite awesome. You have to have an account with them to even have access to see the freebies, but it's worth it. Their vector illustrations are some of my absolute favorites.
  • Creative Market is a bit like the "Etsy" of the graphics design world. It's an indie market that offers anything from fonts to web templates and more. If you create an account, you have access to their exclusive free downloads of the week, which can include images, fonts, web templates, and more. Because you're working with actual designers on these websites, there's often excellent pricing ($2 fonts! I'm in love!), very unique concepts, and you are directly helping out your fellow artists.

Here are links to some excellent articles about copyright:

I hope you found this post helpful and that you've discovered some great resources for keeping your websites and blog posts interesting. If you have further recommendations or questions, feel free to comment below. Thank you!


Additional articles in the Author Online series:

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