Using Images for Blogs and Social Media: How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

By Missy Sheehan

When you’re searching for just the right image to go with a post on your company’s Facebook page or blog, it’s pretty easy to hop on Google Images and grab the first awesome picture you find, right? It may be easy, but using just any image you find online can have serious consequences if the image’s copyright holder decides to sue you for copyright infringement.

A lot of bloggers out in the blogosphere today falsely believe that giving credit to the creator of an image means they can legally use it. That’s not the case, though, as many have learned in recent years after facing lawsuits. In December 2013, for example, marketing news website PR Daily published a story about how a content-marketing company ended up paying $8,000 in copyright infringement penalties for unknowingly using a copyrighted photo on a client’s blog. That’s a pretty hefty cost for one blog post.

The same rule applies to social media. If you post someone else’s work without permission—even unknowingly—you could be at risk of a lawsuit, according to a case study published by Bloomberg Law.

Copyright infringement is serious business indeed, but there are options for business owners when it comes to obtaining images to use online.

Copyright infringement is serious business indeed, but there are options for business owners when it comes to obtaining images to use online.

Understanding Copyright

Before you start posting images online, it’s important to understand a bit about copyright law. “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” according to the United States Copyright Office. It protects original works such as songs, novels, photographs, and images from being used without the copyright holder’s permission.

Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. In fact, a work is under copyright as soon as it’s created and “fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” That means even if you don’t see a copyright symbol (©), you should assume an image is under copyright. In fact, assume everything is restricted for use by copyright unless you learn otherwise.

Using Images Created by Others

While you can’t use just any image you find online, there are options for legally using images created by others. Copyright holders have exclusive rights to their creative works, including the right to reproduce, distribute, and publicly display them. They can give permission for others to use their works or license them for specific uses.

If you can’t get in touch with the copyright holder, there are several sources for finding high-quality images you can use without fear of repercussion. Online photo repositories like iStock, for instance, offer use of royalty-free stock images to graphic artists, designers, and even businesses. While the images on sites like iStock aren’t free, they’re usually very high quality and guaranteed not to be infringing on anyone’s copyright, trademark, or other intellectual property right.

Depositphotos is another useful source for images. Angie Dunnigan, the fearless leader and owner of aka Media Marketing, loves this site. Depositphotos has pricing plans (the best value) or offers pay-as-you-go photo credits. The images are high quality, and the site provides an abundance of photo choices, Angie says.

If you prefer free-to-use images, you can search for material that copyright holders have licensed for commercial use through Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that allows for sharing and use of creative works through easy-to-use copyright licenses that specify levels of permissible use. From the Creative Commons website, you also can search other sites like Flickr, which allows you to narrow your search parameters so you only see photos licensed for commercial use, and Wikimedia Commons, a database of more than 23 million freely usable media files (check to be sure they’re licensed for commercial use though).

No matter where you get your images, be sure to properly credit the creator. Check the image’s Creative Commons license deed for details on proper attribution, or ask the copyright holder his or her preference.

Fair-Use Exceptions

There are exceptions that allow for use of copyrighted works under the fair use doctrine, which permits the use or reproduction of such materials for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. However, business entities should be wary of attempting to claim fair use when using copyrighted materials for anything that could be construed as having a commercial purpose, as most company blogs and social media channels do.

Do It Yourself—Or Ask a Professional

If you’re frustrated by sifting through images online, why not create your own? That’s a surefire way to make sure your images are 100 percent original. Websites like and are cool (and mostly free) resources for simple, do-it-yourself images and graphics.

Another option is to hire a graphic designer to create some high-quality visual pieces for you. Angie here at aka Media Marketing, for example, works with longtime friend and new officemate Jenny Johnson and her graphic and web design firm Integrity Designs to create custom graphics to use in her branding and marketing campaigns. Firebrand Media in Martinsburg, West Virginia, is another local source for creative and custom graphic design.

Many professional photographers also work with businesses to take high-quality photos to use in marketing materials and on websites and social media networks.

Whichever route you decide to take for finding images to use on your business’s blog and social media channels, just remember to make sure you have permission to use an image commercially before you post it. After all, it’s much easier to take the time to do your homework now than it will be to pay expensive copyright infringement penalties later. 

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  • Author: Missy Sheehan
  • About Me: aka Media Marketing contributor, freelance writer for regional publications like Blue Ridge Country, WV Living, and Hagerstown magazines. I write articles on food, travel, and outdoor adventure as well as marketing materials for businesses. Connect with me on Twitter @SheehanWriting.