How Copying and Pasting Images Can Get You In Trouble

in #photography7 years ago (edited)

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.

Fair Use

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.


Such good information. Sooner or later a high income earner here at Steemit may be confronted with copyright infringement and have to fork over some of their earnings! Thanks I'll try and be careful!

Thats whats great about blockchain, its decentralized and only you own the keys not the government. Only you can decide what to do with your wallet unless your hacked. Thats why bitcoin got so popular and no government can stop it unless they shut down the internet.

It can in theory work even without the internet. just the slowness of alternative communication devices might get impractical.

I agree. I actually spent about 2 hours today working on a post about a website that I liked, and was using images from that website to enhance my post. I realized after I created the post that their terms of use said you could not borrow or reuse any of the content from their site for commercial purposes, so I took it down.

there's no such thing as laws, is just an Legal theory and a philosophical illusion ...a king can't judge a king .. under this principle of syllogism ....

I have been falsely called out for copying photos and it was the person I ate with account. I own the photo, you have no right to make false claims. I want this attack deleted asap.

I want to believe you ignored copyright when getting this pic

I've been using lately and it seems to work out well. The site claims the images are free to use for commercial use, so I've felt safe using them here, especially if I modify them a bit (because, you know, everything needs the Steemit logo).

What are your thoughts on how much an image needs to be modified before it would be classified as new art?

Yeap that's what I use. This posts image is from Pixabay.

Classified as new art? hm.... that's a hard one. Personally from scratch or you would atleast need to provide info that it's a modification of the original work.

I was thinking along the lines of editing an existing work by dropping in the Steemit logo. As an example. I did that with the #bitcoinpizza challenge. I found the image online and dropped in the logo. Did I steal? Did I create a new original work? I'm not really sure, but I feel like it's okay.

pixabay is really great, and I'd been using it exclusively, but my wife recently showed me Pexels and I've found the quality of the images to be much higher, for the same commercial license.

Cool, I'll check it out. Thanks!

Great tip about Pexels, thanks.

Wow thanks, sometime i feel like an idiot when i didn't know about something so obvious :)

Definitely checking it out, thanks a ton!

Under the old copyright paradigm, that's always up to the judge presiding over the copyright suit to decide.

Happens all the time in the music industry where other records are frequently sampled, and then used in an altered form. The judge (who knows nothing about the music, or the technology) looks at it, and looks at it, lawyers argue about it for a few months (everyone's getting paid $250/hr if not more) , and then the judge says "ok, it's ... new art". Or "it's infringing".

The entire thing is just a mindboggling pile of bullshit.

The entire thing is just a mindboggling pile of bullshit.

I'm in the software industry and that's generally how many think about software patents. IP laws, to me, are pretty ridiculous. I like Ben Franklin's approach which was basically along the lines of keep innovating and adding value and leave everyone else behind. Anything backed by the coercive force of government is, to me, a bad idea to begin with. Good ideas don't require force.

That said, I also deeply care about original creators and hate to see them being taken advantage of. I hope our technology can provide solutions to provably show (via notarization through the blockchain, maybe?) who the original authors are and reward them accordingly.

The LBRY project are doing some interesting stuff along these lines.

That sounds really cool, thanks for sharing. I've heard a little here or there about it. Nice intro video. I'll keep an eye out for it.

I've been using it too. Another one is There are different forms of creative commons. I usually use since you can pretty much do whatever you want with it without worrying (modify, use without attributing, use for commercial purposes, etc.)

Pixababy is awesome. Thanks!

What are your thoughts on mentioning the source of an picture? Is that enough of a cover if you're taking it off some random person's website? I would say no...

There are websites that provide free to use images, here one's that I have found easy to search on for pics I wanted

If I don't post something that's my own, what I typically do is a google image search specifically for stock images, which many times have the stock company's logos plastered all over it. Might even add "stock" to the search. You can tell by looking at the URL and the image together to see if in fact it is a stock image. These are images that are intended for use like this, actually.

Otherwise, if you're posting someone else's work, whether or not you're going to be ostracized for it seems to depend on the mood of your audience.
I, for one, do not feel that earning money on another person's work is ethical at all. I've been a photographer for going on 18 years, and I've had to fight tooth and nail to protect my copyright when someone takes it upon themselves to try to either claim it as their own, alter it (even when trying to give credit), or reap benefits from it. That's what permission is for, and even then many times - depending on the photographer - contracts are involved.
Even if you tried to assume the label of "curator", this is really no different than being an artist's distributor. Now, distributors DO get paid, but not 100% of the profits. That gets shared with the creator, because without the creator, you don't have it to share in the first place.

Could this particular site be shut down for enabling copyright violation?

If they don't comply on multiple occassions and their host gets a DMCA, most probably yes. Google might and/or unlist the pages from search.

The website can get shutdown but not the blockchain which runs everything and is the backbone. So actually anybody can connect to the blockchain and make tons of like websites. We already have one called Piston I think . In a way it cant get shutdown unless you turn off the world internet, thats whats great about blockchain technology its decentralized. Read about bitcoin should help.


for images I use Pixabay and for memes I create them using my imagination.

Could not agree with you more - steemit needs a content verification tool like "turn it in" @repholder

this would defeat the purpose of the website. People will downvote the Post, this is about Community. Bitcoin was invented so governments have no control same with cryptocurrencies.

fair enough but it was also created to reward innovation and creativity, not 'stealing' others work. I still think a screening process is necessary- i have read the same content more than three times on steemit- via copy/paste method @karbonxx

It's not about governments having no control, so that we can treat others like crap without penalty. Such a "community" is no community at all.

This isn't an academic enterprise. There's no reason anyone should care about plagiarism.

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