Credit where credit is due

Mock creative commons logoA fellow blogger, who regularly comments on this site, once asked me about the re-use of images on his blog. He’d published a logo or something similar from an organisation that does not grant re-use permission for such materials. So I advised him to remove it from his blog before they sent in the suits.

In the world of journalism, as opposed to the blogosphere, minor copyright infringement, such as the mistaken re-use of an image accompanying an article often results in a standard copyright infringement notice, removal of the offending image, and a notice of apology. Obviously, in print it is slightly different, but yesterday’s news is today’s fish and chips wrapper anyway (at least it was until they banned the use of old newspapers in chip shops).

Blogs fall into a slightly different camp. Not quite amateur, if they are getting big numbers of visitors and running ads, for instance, but certainly not in the same journalistic league as the NYT or the BBC news sites.

Anyway, a quick legal refresher: Unless it states somewhere that you can use an image without limitations, you must assume that the publisher and/or the authors reserve all rights, this means you usually cannot re-publish an image without express permission of the copyright holder, regardless of the benefits wider dissemination of the image and its associated context might bring.

The exception is a press release, unless it says you must seek permission. Usually the whole of a press release is intended for free publication with or without editorial attention at the discretion of the editor. Of course, press releases do not always include images, so an intrepid journalist or blogger must look elsewhere for illustrations.

There are exceptions to the copyright rules that might be used in this regard. Images produced by the US government or its employees are copyright free. So anything from NASA, for instance. Other public domain images, and images with a creative commons or other openaccess or copyleft statement are essentially free for use with credit and conditions as outlined in their respective terms and licensing document.

To search flickr for creative commons images you can use this link – – substitute the word “photo” in the link for an appropriate keyword, but be sure to check the CC license of the flickr’er in question.

Indeed, don’t take my word for any of this. You need to check each specific image and if in doubt, request permission for re-use, whether you are a blogger, journalist or publisher. There are other exceptions, but usually those who create images or other intellectual property want, at the very least, credit for their efforts. That, of course, includes images from other publications that have added value to an author’s image.

The current interpretation of copyright law is aimed at protecting those who produce creative works, but this often seems to be to the detriment of the individual when publishers have adopted the copyright. Publishers, however, it can be argued, do add significant value to the material they publish. I have seen it from the inside. They do so, not only from the point of view of validating the information to be published, but also to the point of rendering the words and pictures in a form that is intelligible to the target readership. Whether or not the author or reader should pay for that added value is a different matter. Publishing is currently in a state of flux in that regard with new experimental business models in place that seek to invert the traditional approach of reader pays.

Regardless, with the copyright law as it currently stands: assume you cannot, unless you know you can, and if you are unsure, seek permission, add a credit, and carry on blogging.

9 thoughts on “Credit where credit is due”

  1. Hi Barbara

    Yes, I’m pretty much everywhere ;-) I do have other sites, yes.

    I try to use my own photos and graphics with my writing as much as I can. I have licensed access to some pretty good stock shops too, and requests to the people about whom I am writing usually fills the gap.


  2. Hello David,

    Ironically I ended up here, as I was searching for more info on including photos in a blog. I thought your name sounded familiar, and realized you re the author of Significant Figures, also.

    You have two great blogs…is there more?

    With regard to using photos on a blog, do you think it would be better to just use your own photos and alleviate the issues that could arise by using online stock photos?

  3. Leo, it depends on where you are in the world. There are different copyright and privacy laws in the UK and US for instance. Please do not consider the following legal professional advice.

    Copyright generally belongs to the creator, i.e. the person taking the photo, the person giving the speech, unless they have specifically signed away their copyright (US government employees claim no copyright, other companies may hold copyright to creative work done in the employer’s time and even out of the office.

    In the US you cannot take a photograph of just anyone and use it for commercial gain without getting their consent. Additionally, if you take a photograph intrusively, i.e. with a doubled 300 mm zoom lens with image stabilisation pointing right into a celeb’s open shower room window while they’re getting undressed, you are generally breaking privacy laws in most places in the world. A photo of a celeb attending a movie premiere is a different matter.

    As to posting a recording of someone’s talk or speech, the words are their copyright, there is no creative act involved in your recording them and posting to your blog, even if you add a drumtrack.


  4. I have a question on a related topic, “image rights”.

    For example, a celebrity is photographed while walking on the street. Does that celebrity possess copyrights over the photograph ? Same question, a member of Joe Public is photographed while walking on the street. Does s/he own the copyrights over the photo ?

    Logically I find it difficult to believe that individuals, celebrity or not, can claim he or she has copyrights over any image of himself / herself. But isn’t this the basis for legal suits by a number of celebrities over photos taken of themselves in events such as weddings etc ?

    Lastly, similar question on voice. Someone makes a public speech. It is recorded and made available to the public in some blogs. Does that individual own the copyrights over that speech ?

    many thanks

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