Blogging 873x556 - Fair Use  of Copyright Images in Your Blog
Intellectual Property

Fair Use of Copyright Images in Your Blog

Today’s artists and creative entrepreneurs use blogging as a necessary tool to demonstrate thought leadership and capture a dedicated audience and internet following. For artists and photographers, finding photos aren’t usually a problem – they’re just using their own. But what about lifestyle, fashion, and food bloggers, who tend to rely on pop culture images and other media as photo content on their blogs?

With an abundance of photos available on the internet, the urge to simply Google a photo and use it on your website is hard to resist. And while it may seem like everyone’s doing it, that doesn’t make it okay: Those are copyrighted images, and the owner of the copyright can have several different avenues for recourse in order to be compensated for your use of the image.

On the other hand, using a copyrighted image doesn’t mean you’re liable to a photographer or company if your use of the photo fell into certain exceptions under the Fair Use doctrine. Receiving a demand for compensation from a copyright owner doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay up, as we’ve discussed in our previous article on receiving a Getty Images Demand Letter.

Whether you’re new to blogging or a seasoned internet savant, there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to fair use on the internet. What’s acceptable use for photos found on the internet? What are the risks involved with using someone else’s photos for blogging?

Blogger 101: What is Fair Use?

In most instances, copyright law says that you cannot copy and distribute someone else’s copyrighted works without prior permission from the copyright holder. Permission must be expressly granted through a license, and often involves an exchange of money. The only exception to this rule is the Fair Use doctrine, which allows you to use copyrighted work for certain purposes.Royalties

The fair use doctrine is outlined by U.S. copyright laws, and the U.S. Copyright Office has even created a Fair Use Index of the overwhelming case law on the subject. Courts tend to measure fair use by these four prongs:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

While these guidelines may seem a little complex, they actually provide a bright line rule for adhering to copyright law when posting content on the internet.

It’s also important to remember that fair use is not met simply by meeting one of the four criteria. You will need to evaluate and apply all of the factors outlined in the doctrine because courts will take a balanced approach in deciding whether your use of a copyrighted image constitutes fair use. Though it’s not necessary for you to meet every factor, your use of the image will need to benefit the overall innovating needs of artistic expression and the dissemination of information in today’s internet culture.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Fair Use

The purpose and character of the use of the photo you’re using should generally not be used for commercial purposes, and will constitute fair use if you’re using the image for purposes of commentary, criticism, reporting, or teaching. Generally, that means you can’t use a photo simply to enhance a blog post, or use a photographer’s image of a blouse in order to sell that blouse on your website. But you can use it if you want to explain a technique or report on a new trend. For example, it can be argued that you have used a photo from Milan Fashion Week in order to report on Del Pozo’s Spring collection, and illustrate a particular runway trend through various images.

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Satisfying the ‘nature of the work’ prong of the fair use doctrine is a little trickier, and most bloggers will want to stay away from publishing any photos on their site that haven’t already been published elsewhere. But even when they have been previously published on the internet, courts are reluctant to allowuse of the photo when its highly creative in nature, rather than factual. When it comes to images, this tenet can be hard to quantify – you will need to show that your use of the photo had an educational or critical purpose for illustrating a principle, similar to the example above.

blogging

The amount and substantiality of the portion used of the copyrighted work will hinge on the overall content contained in your blog. Generally speaking, if all of your photos are coming from the same source, and you don’t have permission to use these photos, then you could be facing a pretty serious problem. Courts will understand if you’ve used a photo or two in a long blog post to illustrate your points and provide background, but they will not be lenient if it’s clear that almost none of your content is original.

The one exception to this rule are images you’ve re-blogged or copied on sites like Tumblr and Pinterest. These websites’ terms of service grants the site the right to copy and distribute the work and for other subscribers to the site to do so, as well. That means that if someone has posted an image on Tumblr or Pinterest, that image is fair game. However, it’s important to make sure that the original poster was not posting a copyrighted photo that belonged to someone else without express permission, because that would constitute infringement.

Effect of the market is the most complex tenet to overcome, because it basically means that your use of the work cannot affect the work’s potential for sale in the market. Does your use of the image affect the artist’s potential to sell that work? What if the artist already sold the work to a newspaper or publication, and you’re simply re-posting the photo he already profited from? Should artists be compensated again and again every time their image is used? In these instances, it’s hard to show that your use of a copyrighted image doesn’t infringe on the copyright owners’ ability to earn money from this work. There is one exception though, in the form of a landmark ruling of Perfect 10 v. Google. In the opinion of the 9th Circuit, Google’s indexing of images on the internet and reducing them to thumbnail size represented a transformative work that represented fair use. So while copying an image in its entirety may not be okay under the potential market tenet of the Fair Use doctrine, use of thumbnail images on your blog is probably okay.

What Can Bloggers Do to Satisfy Fair Use?

Now that you know the rules, it’s important to stick to these guidelines in order to satisfy fair use and stay out of trouble. First and foremost, you should always give credit to the artist or owner of the image. This includes the creator’s name, as well as other information that will help people find the original work or source. And should the artist contact you and ask you to take the image down, do so promptly and apologetically. While your use of the image may constitute fair use, you’re still infringing on an artist’s copyright, and it’s better to remove the photo than become embroiled in litigation.

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In addition, be sure that the majority of the content on your blog and within your posts are original or licensed works. If your blog were to come under scrutiny and it is shown that the majority of your images have been used without express permission, you may have a harder time proving fair use.

Finally, the easiest way to stay in the clear when it comes to using images on your blog is to purchase your photos. Websites like Flickr’s Creative Commons, iStock Photo, and Deviant Art offer licensed images at a very low cost and in some instances, free of charge. In the case of Creative Commons, these photos are still copyrighted, but there are certain restrictions on the way you use them.

Still not sure whether your use of images constitutes fair use? We’re happy to answer any lingering questions, so leave your comments and questions below. Happy blogging!

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About the author

Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a writer and law school graduate with a dedicated focus and passion for the arts, and a particular interest in Latin American art and history. Nicole has extensive experience working with art galleries and museums in Buenos Aires and Miami, and explores cultural landscapes across the Americas through her writing.

82 Comments

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  • Hello, I am in the planning phase of a blog in which I would take photos from a popular TV show’s website, and research look-alike products. In other words, I would post links (affiliate links) to products that look like the ones featured on the show. If I link back to the TV show’s website, and post all of the proper copyright documentation, is that allowed?

    • Attribution has nothing to do with copyright. If you use an image without permission, it is an infringement. There are exceptions, of course, like being able to review products and provide critiques. In general though, I would try to choose those images form the company website, rather than from the web in general. That exception won’t necessarily apply to an individual’s photos. So if you are critiquing and making a comparison, then its likely fair use. Of course, every case is different, there are always shades of grey, so its hard to be definitive.

      Just get yourself educated on the critique exception in copyright. There are some articles on this site and some pamphlets that can be downloaded from the copyright office as well.

  • hi, i started a blog and my first topic is to share my favorite gift ideas for 2018. i want to include a link of the items I am recommending with a photo from the original source. would there be any issues?

    • Interesting question. Generally, you aren’t supposed to use other people’s images without permission. However, there is a commentary and review exception under fair use that does allow for this. That doesn’t mean that just grabbing someone’s image will be ok. The photographer may take issue with the use, in which case you would have to prove your usage falls within the exception.

      So, it is much better if you use images provided by the company on their website and not someone else’s images. And they should be directed only to the review. So if you are reviewing more than one item in the same article, then the featured image at the top of the blog article may not fall under the same rule as one attached to the section that has the review. For that, you can find many stock photo sites with $1 images that would suit your purpose, while getting the rest from the company websites.

  • I blog for fun but I used a image off google images. Now I’m getting sued. I tok the image down immediately of course but they are asking for $5,000 claiming I have hindered the artist livelihood. Any sugestions?

  • Hey Nicole. I am starting a movie blog and I was wanting to know if it was okay to use images that was associated with the movie from off the internet. I am going to use the images so that viewers would know what the movies looks like when I am describing it.

    • Generally, you can do this under the commentary and review copyright exception. I would use images, however, that came for the film company such as from their website as opposed to someone who may have grabbed a screenshot or something like that. You might want to look at some of the articles on fair use here, just to make sure you are knowledgeable on the exception and how it works.

  • Hi there.

    I run a blog for my company. We post about diabetes-friendly recipes, for example, a compilation of diabetes-friendly desserts from food bloggers I find. Would it be ok to use images from other people’s blog’s of their food if I’m saying about the photo “check out this yummy dessert,” and “dessert” is linked to the blog’s recipe I’m talking about? Would it help to write the original poster’s website directly onto the photo?

  • I have a question about posting a video on a blog I’m working on, it’s about cruelty-free products.i would like to know if I’m allowed to post a video that’s on Netflix “the human experiement” it talks about how chemicals in our household products affect our health. I think the video would be perfect to put on my blog to show people why they should choose cruelty- free products

  • Hi, I’m soon starting a site more like Imdb. To provide information about celebrities, movies and tv-series and song albums. Can I use their respective images? I’ll just be providing information about it, no review and selling stuff. Though I’ll be earning from ads on the website.

    • You would need permission from the photographer and or the celebrity unless there are public domain images of the celebrity. That usually happens when someone is not professionally shooting and donates the image to the public, like on Wikipedia. But stage shoots and album covers etc are all copyright protected.

  • What is the law about taking screen shots of Google searches / Twitter and similar to illustrate points made within a blog?

    • It really depends on what you are grabbing. A google image search probably is Ok since the thumbnails are already considered fair use but it generally needs to be the page, not single images. Other screenshots really depend on what you are grabbing and what the article is about. And, whether it falls within the commentary or review exception under copyright law.

  • Hi
    What If I am writing a blog on Bill Gates. Where would I get a photo of Bill Gates to use on my blog ?
    (Blog is for commercial purpose – Google Adsense)

  • I want to make a summary of a japanese visual novel: Little Busters!
    I obviously want to use images from the visual novel for the summary. Is that fair use?

  • Hey there! I am starting a blog on creating foods from my favorite books and movies. Is it legal to use word’s like Harry Potter’s Butterbeer or Lord of the Rings Stew as recipe titles? I know a lot of people do but I want to know if it’s legal. Eventually I hope the blog will make money and I don’t know if that plays any role in this. Thanks!

  • I have taken photos of art and sculpture at a recently opened London exhibition where photos are permitted.
    Can I use these on my blog?

    Alanna

    • If you are using them within the bounds of what is expected, then it’s OK. But taking personal photos may not extend to a commercial purpose such as a blog. It depends on the terms of service from the museum. It may also depend on how you are using them and the content of the images themselves as well as the specific works you are posting. Also whether you are selling them can play a role as well. Sorry I can’t be more specific

  • Hi, I would like to do an video, and insert some super hero images in my video when I mentioned their character for a short session. Let’s say superman. Am I getting myself into any trouble? Thanks.

  • Hi Nicole

    I’ve been copying and pasting e main image and content of articles from websites that allow for FB and Twitter, etc sharing, on my blog posts. Is this ok?

    Thanks!

  • I’m making a blog with the pictures I’ve taken on my travels. I went to several museums including art ones, and took pictures of the exhibits there. I don’t know if I can use pictures I took of someone else’s art and put it on my blog; it’s more of a portfolio for college.

  • hey nicole,
    I have just now started writing blogs on self improvement kind of stuff like confidence,leadership and all that. For that purpose i use images that have quotes most of the time. Is it illegal?

  • Thanks for the post! I’m working with a non-profit to create “dabs”, or 30-60s videos covering a recent news event with a little political commentary added. They’ll be similar to the Now This or AJ+ format, using a combination of video & still photography from various news sources. These are intended to educate the public on a variety of issues, as well as advance our organization’s political critique. I’d like to be able to use images from Getty, Reuters, and AP, without having to pay, under Fair Use law. I’d like to know if you think what we want to do will qualify as fair use. Thanks!

  • Hey, I am a Blogger and I’ve just started blogging & like to write on Smartphones, Gadgets and other stuffs. Only doubt i have is that whether i can use pictures or videos from these all websites and put it in my blog. Can i do this???
    Even if we download pictures from these websites but if we edit them and publish will it be correct to do so??
    Or do we have to specify the image source?
    Please Reply asap Because I am waiting eagerly to publish my blog.

  • Thank you so much for this post!!! It has answered almost all of my questions but I still have one left. If I were to do a post on my blog about how to dress like a certain celebrity, could I use a picture of the celebrity wearing the outfit(s) I’m going to re-create?

  • Hi There,

    I have a movie webiste in which I review action movies and write genre related news and facts.
    As you can presume in order to make my content better I have to use movie posters, movie stills and images of celebrities.
    Of course, I don’t want to pay for that= if possible.
    What would you advise me to do and can I use already distributed images on other websites if I link to them?
    Thank you!

  • Great day,
    I have newspaper photos of myself playing high school football. I wrote a blog post about my football experiences. In addition to the newspaper photos, i have some of my own. Am i within fair use. I credited the paper, and photographer. Thank you much!

  • HI Nicole! I am just starting a blog on hair and I did want to use images for my posts. I do not want to get into trouble, but I do not have images of my own with the hair trends I want to inform about.
    Also, I can defintely make references to certain comments made by celebrities right?

  • I run a news publishing website, rather like The Lad Bible, a lot of my content are local newspapers, sports etc, i have an rss feed set up that takes articles from one site and posts them on mine, i have a bit notification saying nothing belongs to me, no images, i never wrote no content, i have also minimised the amount of characters from the original story with a link saying “READ MORE” which takes you back to the original publishers site.Is this infringement?

    Also if i am to write my own articles, i would find a news report, re-write everything on it however still use the originals news reports imagery but under each image i’d cite it back to the original photographer.

  • Hello!

    I was wondering if I could use a photo from a movie, particularly from Christmas Vacation…I have a blog about PTSD. All of my photos are mine or are royalty free. My next post has to do with tips and ideas for avoiding family during the holidays. I’d love your advice since most photos are all over the internet! Thank you!

  • Hey Nicole!

    I recently posted a blog post about monkeys- I wanted to learn about all the different species of monkeys and share this information and lots of lovely photos about monkeys with other people. I took all of my images off of Google…since the blog post is just for fun and educational to teach myself and others about monkeys, what aspects of the fair use would not be valid? It’s just a recreational blog so I’m not sure what the legality is with that! Thank you:)

  • I’m writing for a nonprofit blog and want to use an image (a historic photograph) that has been posted on numerous blogs and websites without credit. I sourced the image to a newspaper, but cannot find a copyright statement in that particular paper for the time period in question (mid-1960s). Is it permissible to use this photo, and do I still give credit to the source even though there is no copyright statement? Thanks!

  • Hi Nicole

    I am starting a “shop the look” style blog where I have pictures of celebrites (usually paparazzi) and then links where they can buy the same style of clothes, would this be allowed? My pictures are from various sources.

    Thanks.

  • Hi,
    I have a humoristic blog and want to write a post on silly images of pregnant women. This will show 10 or so pictures, with watermark often still on it, taken from Google image in low quality. When used in this satirical way, is that a problem?
    Thanks

  • Hi Nicole,
    Can a website forum copyright images that posters use in the threads to them so someone cannot reuse the images ? In other words if the original photographer isn’t crediting themselves can a third party then take credit and not let people use the image further

    Thanks

  • Hi Nicole,

    I am planning on starting a video game review website. The blog posts in which I would use the developers content (images, banners) will be written for non-profit purposes. However, there will be some posts that will be made to make a profit, but in these blog posts (profit posts) I will not use developer images. I will buy these images from photo selling websites. Is it still illegal to use the developers content for the reviews I will not make a profit for, or will they fall under fair use?

    Thanks for the help!

  • I’ve been thinking of doing a TV shows/movies blog. Sort of a “Shows to Binge” kind of blog, with added reviews. There’s no profit involved, more just to get underrated shows/movies known. Since it’ll be about pre-existing media, and I’d like to use a picture of the show or movie I’m talking about. Would that be considered a copyright issue?

  • Thanks for the info!

    I do SEO for a car dealership and I write blog posts on automotive news but don’t have the time to take my own photos. The blog is simply to provide a stream of content to the website to help SEO and my posts are original and aren’t used to sell anything. If I use a picture from another article (i.e. NY Times, Autonews, Motor Trend etc.) am I liable for copyright?

    Any help would be great!

  • Hi there . Can I use images of quotations . Someone said I have to repurpose them with my own logo etc but that just sounds like stealing to me .As we all just add quotes etc to ig and fb doesnt the same principle apply

  • I run a non-profit website analyzing art. I’ve mostly done old masters, but there are some contemporary artists whose work I’d like to highlight. Can I use images of their paintings? Thanks!

    • Hi Amy, if you take those images in person or can find a royalty-free image online, then yes. Otherwise, you’ll need to get permission from the artist. Hope that helps!

      • Hi Nichole!
        You might have covered base on this but just to clarify,
        If I have a realtor website and wanted to post a picture of a scenery
        would I be able to do so using Flickr or Pixabay?

  • Hi Nicole- I am starting a blog and it will focus on my fashion and my dog. My dog’s name is Luke Skywalker. Am I infringing on any copyright or trademark laws by referring to him by this name? I also plan on doing my hair like Princess Liea for a photo shoot and posting it on the blog. Additionally, do I have to give credit to the clothing brands in my photos (taken by me)? What are the rules here?

    • Hi Dominique, images taken by you are your intellectual property. The same is the case with the way you style your hair, or name your dog. You can certainly link to the brands you’re wearing, but its not required.

  • Hi Nicole, My blog (FB page, Twitter and Instagram) will talk a lot about one specific television show ( The Great British Bake Off ). May I use images of the contestants from their website or images from the TV show on my blog? Thank you!

  • Hi Nicole, I write a blog for our condo that we rent out to vacationers about things to do , upcoming events, etc.. this weeks blog is about the upcoming Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam and need a picture of the concert festival. Was curious if I can use pictures I see from past Gulf Coast Jam festivals?

    • Hi Tonia, the best thing to do is source Flickr for those images. When searching for photos, make sure you choose “Commercial Use Allowed.” These photos can be posted to your blog as long as you attribute the photo to the creator – just use the name attached to their Flickr account. Hope this helps!

  • Hey, I was wondering if I write an article on a particular gadget can I use the photos from the manufacturer without committing any infringement as many tech blogs uses product images

    • Hi Nirjon, it all depends on how much of your article contains images of these products. Generally speaking, I would always seek permission from the manufacturer.

    • You usually have to pay for Shutterstock images, as they are stock images. You can use those images without giving credit to the owner.

  • Hi. I recently wrote an article about 5 photographers who has personally influenced me. I want to include some of their works to critic it and generally explain why I like the photographer. Will that be qualified for fair use? I couldn’t publish it on my blog yet because I’m not sure if it would be legal.
    Hope to hear from you. Thanks.

    • Hi Ryan, since you’re highlighting their work because you think it’s great, why not reach out to them and ask for permission to use the work?

  • Hi,
    I want to use food images posted on yelp and curate them into articles to help people discover good food. I plan to use thumbnails and link the image back to yelp but most of the images would be from yelp. I am linking back, not affecting revenues, copying partially, using work for commentary and public awareness. Should i do it..?

    • While generally thumbnails are considered fair use, this is very murky territory, especially considering Yelp’s deep pockets. I would proceed with caution, and if you’re issued a take down notice, comply immediately.

  • What about the usage of photos/videos from the celebrities Instagram/twitter accounts? Are those pics that can be used on my blog if reporting a story pertaining to the post?

    • Hi Tamara, Instagram and Twitter’s Terms of Services specifically allow for users to repost the content found, so you are likely in the clear on this one. However, I’d urge you to consider that celebrities have much deeper coffers than the average blogger, and a take-down notice or demand for the use of their images can always arise.

  • Hello Dear Nicole, I really appreciate your nice posts 🙂
    I have a simple query please, at the meantime i run a blogger which is mainly focused on posting some info and stuff about various companies, so is it fair to use their logos and include them into my posts and surely all of these logos are linked to the holders .. i mean the owners of these logos?

    • Hi Ouka, logos are a bit tricky because generally speaking, the owner of the copyright has assigned that ownership to the company they designed it for under a work-for-hire agreement. In addition, its unlikely that a logo would be copyrightable under current copyright law, so it’s probably okay to continue using them.

    • Hi Minji, book covers are copyrightable, and the copyright assigned to them may not even belong to the publisher. In practice, of course, is another story. If you’re in the practice of doing this regularly, and haven;t received a take down notice, then you might be in the clear.

  • I blog about phones and their reviews, I take product photos from the respective websites and put them in my review, am infringing copyright? I have affiliate account so some pictures are taken from Amazon and other affiliated online markets.

  • Hi, writing a decorating blog and want to highlight products on store or product websites – lamps, flooring products, etc. Can I use the photos from the product websites and link to that website so people can purchase or read about the product on the seller’s website (also attribute in the caption)? Is that considered ok?

  • I am starting a television review blog, is it ok to use photos I find online to break up the text in my blog posts? I fully intend to credit the site I borrow photos from for this purpose. If this is not allowed, could I take my own photos of my TV and use those? Or would that be infringement because the content (tv program) displayed in the photo does not belong to me?

    Thank you!

  • Thanks for all the helpful info! But wondering… I’m​ planning on writing a baking blog that involves me creating everything in this 1 particular cook book …Serving as a kind of review of the recipes and my process of going through them. Am I breaking any copywriting rules if I have images from inside of the book of a completed recipe alongside what I cooked as comparison if I’m naming the book and authors throughout? Can I recommend readers to buy it on Amazon? Should I inform publishers of the book of this?? Thanks for all the help!!

    • Hi Harika, you can’t use the images from the cookbook in your blog posts without express permission from the authors. You can certainly take photos of your cooking, though! Hope that helps.

      • I’m wondering about using images from a specific venue of their venue in a blog post that reviews the venue. IE: I am reviewing the ice cream shop down the street, can I pull pictures from their website to use in the blog post that describes what the venue looks like?

    • Hi! Good Day. I have this new blog for our course requirement. I’m putting/copying images from different websites to illustrate some people of the past because we are studying about history, life and works of a specific person. Moreover, I am describing that picture and giving information to that particular images. Am I breaking some copyright rules or do i need to put the sources or references at the end of a blog post?

      • Hi John, as a best practice, you should always cite to your source. Depending on how old these images are, where they’re coming from, etc., you may be violating some copyright requirements.

  • hi, I review movies on my blog and usually use a poster and a few shots from the movie to accompany the review. sometimes I add fun commentary to the picture – I usually use what I find on line and I always cite the source. my blog is non profit and I rarely use images from one source. I would presume this would consitute fiar use – whar do you think?

    • Hi Edith, it is likely considered fair use, but I would be weary and comply with any take-down notices issued.

  • I have a question regarding fair use of images on videos (youtube videos mainly). Is it okay to use copyrighted images while talking over them? For example, talking about how a game developer went to the zoo and saw the gorilas movements to make a video game character (and using the picture of a gorila), or using images from deviant art artists that show a character, and talking about that character or a story that concerns him?
    Would that be fair use?

    Thank you!

    • From what I understand, the Deviant Art images would be fine, since you’re using them to comment on them: It constitutes criticism and education. As for You Tube videos, I have no idea, but that’s a really good question!