Can you guess what for me is the hardest part about blogging?

Coming up with interesting topics? Nope, people are always asking me for free legal advice and the good questions I turn into blog posts.

Doing the legal research? Puh-lease. After three years of law school and twenty years of lawyering I can research the heck out of any question.

Admitting my faults and insecurities in an attempt to make a connection with my audience? Okay, this one is a little harder, but after 40-some-odd years, I’m finally at a place where I am comfortable in my own skin and (mostly) immune to the opinions of others. For my ultimate, no-holds barred analysis of my faults and insecurities, both teen years and middle age, check out my Dallas Moms Blog post, My Mid-life Crisis, I Mean Epiphany.

The absolute hardest part about blogging is….

Finding good photos to illustrate my post (and hopefully catch your eye as you are scrolling through your social media feeds).

How hard can it be? You just Google image search and BAM you got a photo. Right?

No, uh-uh, nope, no way José, no sirree.

Okay I could go one with 25 other ways to say no, but you get the picture. No, you don’t just do a Google image search.

I know a lot of you out there are also in search of the “perfect photo.” Maybe you’re a blogger like me. Or running a business with an online presence. Or an influencer with an Instagram feed.

Whether you are a blogger, a business owner, or an influencer, here is how you can LEGALLY use other people’s photos and videos (emphasis on legally, because I am after all, The Law Mother) to promote yourself and your business. 

What is original content and why doesn’t Instagram have a “regram” tool (yet)?

You can only use a photo, video, or text on your blog or business website or influencer Instagram feed if you EITHER personally created it OR you have permission to use it.

Posting a photo, video, or text online gives you the right to see it, not use it.

Want better proof that all content on the internet belongs to someone take a look at Instagram. It may have amazing photo editing tools but you know the one tool it doesn’t have yet? A “regram” button to share other people’s posts. Why? Instagram was intended to be a repository for original content (unlike Facebook and Twitter where most of the content is a rehash of someone else’s work).

One more word on text. Text also includes those memes with clever sayings.

Wait, what about “fair use?” All I have to do is tweak it, right?

Please don’t mistake your Google search for my law degree.

There is a very technical exception to copyright infringement known as “fair use” that you might have come across in a Google search on copyrights. In plain English, it’s not copyright infringement if you are criticizing or commenting on another work (like a review or parody), or your use is “transformative” (like incorporating a photo into a work of art).

Sounds good, right? It is, but it is rarely, if ever, going to apply. Remember when I said it was “technical?” That’s another way of saying that only an attorney specializing in copyright infringement is going to be able to make that call (and even then, it’s just a best guess).

If I give credit to them, isn’t that enough?

Nope, linking back to the source or giving the source credit is not going to save you if you use someone else content without permission.

How do I get permission to use someone else’s stuff?

There are a couple of ways to do this.

If you need an image for your blog, website, or Instagram feed, get one from a legitimate stock photo website. While some require you to buy the right to use the image, there are plenty of free ones out there like Unsplash and Pexels. Make sure you keep a record of where you get every image in cases someone later accuses you of copyright infringement.

Bloggers like me who are not making any money off of our work (see, the absence of ads and sponsored content on Lex Mater), tend to rely on our own photos and free stock photo websites (which is why the photos you see on my blog are seen on lots and lots of other blogs as well).

Another way is to just ask. The worse they can say is no. But my experience is that the good content creators usually say yes because your sharing of their content on social media (with proper credit) increases their exposure and builds their brand.

How much trouble can I get into?

Potentially, a lot. If you use someone else’s content without their permission, they could sue you for up to $150,000 PER USE. That means if you use three photos without permission, you could be sued for $450,000.

At a minimum you are risking getting a nasty cease and desist letter from a lawyer and your blog, website or Instagram feed being shut down.

Yes you can create some serious trouble for yourself if you use other people’s content without permission.

So don’t do it.

Learn how to take better photos yourself. Check out the free stock photo websites. And don’t be afraid to reach out and ask permission. I recently started doing this and have yet to have someone say no. And each time I did, the content creator in turn shared by blog with her followers.

Please read my Disclaimer.

Copyright © 2019 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.




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