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How to source legal photos and images

Many people mistakenly believe that if they’ve spent hours trawling through images and photos on the internet then they have the right to use them, but it’s not as straightforward as that.

All you have to do is come up with an idea “Australian outback”, type it into Google images and hey presto, some of the most spectacular photography fills your screen. Before you start dragging them onto your desktop and using them to market your new business pause for a moment and consider the fact that you may be risking copyright infringement. That image belongs to someone, it may not immediately be obvious who but someone has taken that photograph or created the artwork, and the rights belongs to them.

The internet is flooded with spectacular photography, funny snaps, quirky illustrations and thought provoking images, in fact there are websites devoted solely to sharing and viewing photos and images. Once you decide to copy that image onto your desktop and upload it to your blog, website, social media page or a brochure you’re printing for your new home business, you run the risk of being sued.

Photographers make a living from the sale of their photography, illustrators make a living from their artwork, just as you make a living from the job you do. Often a photographer has spent hours setting up a scene, waiting until the light is just right, hiring models or props, only to have their photography stolen, their copyright infringed. If the photo belongs to a Stock Library then there’s a chance that the image has some embedded code in it that will track the image right back to your website or blog.

As technology advances new, innovative ways are being developed to database ownership of images. Mediachain is creating a global rights database using blockchain technology. This will give creative professionals the ability to prove ownership and track the use of their work. It will certainly open up a facility to monetize the use of creative work in the future and will give users access to historic and ownership information. This will solve a problem that creative’s have struggled with as the digital age evolves. Until now it has been very difficult to track usage and for the user to trace ownership.

So, how do you protect yourself and still have access to top quality images? Well, if you know who owns the image you can always ask for permission, the photographer might be happy to let you use their image and simply ask you to credit them when you use it. Or, you could take a look at some “public domain” or “copyright free” images, there are sites all over the internet that offer free public domain images. Another option is to purchase “royalty free” stock library images. Stock libraries are set up as a sales avenue for photographers, professional and amateur, to sell their craft. You can register with the site, purchase credits and then search via keywords or phrases to find a selection of high quality images to suit your need.

Imagine I was putting together a website featuring an article on the emerging presence of crypto currency in our society. I’d start by opening up an account with a good stock library and head to their royalty free image section. I’d type in keywords such as Bitcoin, money, crypto currency or decentralized. These keywords would recover a selection of images that relate directly to my topic. I would be able to choose one that I can comfortably incorporate into my website knowing I had legitimately paid for the service. Is it expensive? No, for just a couple of dollars you can purchase an image that you can use freely, any number of times without any fear of litigation.

You might wonder why photographers would allow people to download images so cheaply, well, don’t forget, it’s not just you that’s downloading that image, some images are purchased hundreds, even thousands, of times. A search in Google for ‘Royalty Free Images’ will deliver a host of “stock library” sites for you to investigate. There also some great sites that offer free stock photos and images that you can use anywhere for any purpose without having to attribute the owner. They are definitely worth considering.

Cate Cornwell

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