It's a problem that almost all Steem users have had to deal with at some point. The content is in place and the design looks great, but you are struggling to find images to complete the package. Unfortunately, many resort to copying and pasting images from other websites directly into their own posts, however, this carries a number of risks and can even result in you having to deal with legal issues in particularly egregious cases.
This is an area of the web that many struggle to understand, so here we will examine the legalities of copying and pasting images, the sort of trouble that you can get into if you do and some useful tips if you are struggling to source images.
The Legal Aspect
Copyright law was created to protect original works and this is as relevant for images that are posted online as it is for books, works of art of anything else that is of original design. To further complicate things, an online image is considered to be copyrighted from the moment that it is uploaded to a website or service, so there is no need for a notice to be placed with the image.
As such, by copying and pasting an image, regardless of how obscure it is, you instantly break copyright law and put yourself at risk of being contacted by the original creator of the image and served with a cease and desist request.
This may happen in a number of ways. For one, the original copyright owner, or somebody representing that person, may get in touch with you and politely ask you to remove the image, which is perhaps the best outcome when copying somebody else’s work. If this happens to you, get rid of the image immediately and thank your lucky stars that the situation hasn’t been elevated.
If you persist in using the image, then you will start opening yourself up to further legal ramifications, especially if the image you are using earns money directly for the creator. Embroiling yourself and the Steem team in a legal battle is not advantageous to you or your SP investment.
The SEO Aspect
Using other people’s work can also have a negative effect on the website’s search engine optimisation (SEO). On the most basic level, copying content will devalue your website in the eyes of search engines, as they will generally only aim to produce the original source of the content, rather than those that have copied it. This applies for images as much as it does for written content, so keep that in mind if you wish to build SteemIT’s reputation online.
Another cause for concern is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This act was created specifically to protect digital properties as it criminalizes the production or dissemination of devices, services or technology that is intended to circumvent the measures taken to protect copyrighted works. While this is most commonly used in cases of software piracy and other, perhaps more serious cases, DMCA also applies to images and content on websites.
If a website owner discovers that you have copied an image, it is possible that they may choose to alert search engines, such as Google, and request that the offending page be taken out of search results. As long as the original owner of the content can demonstrate the violation, which is fairly simple to do as the owner just needs to show where the image was originally presented and trust the search engine algorithm to be able to detect where it first appeared, the page that hosts the copied image can be removed from indexes entirely. If this was a popular page on your website, you may find that your visitor numbers start to drop, all because you copied and pasted an image.
The concept of fair use complicates matters a little bit, as it allows for the use of copyrighted images in certain circumstances. An important distinction to understand from the off is that fair use does not mean free. There are a number of conditions that must be met for the use of a copyrighted images to be considered as fair use.
In essence, this aspect of law is balanced towards favouring the public interest, but it can often be hard to determine where the public interest ends and your personal interests begin. The use of the image needs to be limited and reasonable, while not interfering with the owner’s copyright or impeding that person’s right to do whatever they choose to with the image.
One of the most obvious examples of fair use in relation to images on the web is that of product reviews. If you wish to review a product, regardless of what it is, it is likely that you will want to locate a good picture of the product without having to resort to hiring professional photographers to take photos of whatever you have purchased.
In this case, you may decide to head to the product manufacturer’s website to copy and paste one of their pictures. On the face of it, this may seem like the sort of copyright infringement that we spoke about earlier. However, if your use of the image is restricted solely to the review, there is minimal effect on the owner’s rights so it is likely that the copying would be permitted under fair use. Similar standards often apply for news websites using images that further the stories that they convey, though again this can get hazy in cases where one news provider has exclusive rights to the image being used.
This is by no means a fool-proof system and it is possible that the copyright owner may instigate legal action in response to the copying, even if you believe you have used the image fairly. As such, it is a good idea to contact the copyright owner directly to ask for permission to use the image, at least as a formality, and understand that there are still risks involved.
On a general level, copying an image and using it to promote your business will practically never constitute fair use. It should also be noted that using images on stock image websites and those on Wikimedia Commons will rarely constitute free use, as such sites often place conditions for proper use in place, as we will cover below.
Legitimately Sourcing Images
So now that we have examined the things that you can’t do when searching for images for your website or Steem blog, how about we take a look at a few of the ways that you can source images legally for use on your posts.
Your first option is paid websites, such as Shutterstock, iStock and BigStock. Such websites maintain massive archives of images that can be downloaded for a fee and used in accordance with their terms and conditions. While there is a slight risk of duplication with other sites that may have purchased the same images, this is perhaps the best way to acquire images legally that you can use freely. Furthermore, many of these sites will also permit alteration of the images that you purchase, allowing you to make them unique to your site.
There are also similar stock websites that offer images for free, with the caveat of having to offer credit to the original creator. Wikimedia Commons and sites like FreePik operate under this principle. While this can be ideal for those searching for quick images for a blog, they may not work well for sites that want to claim ownership of the images and not have to put a caption in place offering credit, thus ruining the flow of their web designs.
It is also possible to filter the results in a Google Image Search to find pictures that are free to use, though these will often have conditions attached to them, such as providing credit or a website link to the creator’s page. To further complicate matters, Google will only provide a general notice that you need to ensure you meet the requirements of the image’s copyright holder, without actually telling you what these requirements might be. This means that searching for an image in this fashion will often result in you having to read through websites and potentially contacting their owners to find out about any conditions attached to their use.
The Final Word
So what conclusions can we draw from all of this? The most simple one is that you will be taking risks, both in terms of legal ramifications and the online marketing related to your website, if you copy and paste images.
However, there are services available that will help you to source images, either at a direct monetary cost or by meeting certain conditions put in place by the copyright owner, that can help, plus the issue of fair use can come into play, in very specific circumstances.
As such, website and blog owners need to be very careful about the images that they use. A simple copy and paste could have potentially massive consequences and pleading ignorance will not help you, so be aware of the risks at all times.