Monday, July 23, 2012

PSA: You Can Get Sued for Using Images on Your Blogs or Sites

Hey, sweet readers!

I know I totally freaking ignored my Friday Obsessions post. It would have been boring, because the only thing I was obsessed with is finishing the draft of SOLVING FOR EX, which is a sweet YA romance about Mathletes that also happens to be a redux of Austen's MANSFIELD PARK, my second fave Austen. Yay!

(Seriously, somehow I wrote 28k in the entire month of June, and then up and knocked out 30k in eight days. Deadlines are apparently KING in getting me to finish anything. Sigh.)

Anyway, I'm diving into editing today, but I wanted to take a second to blog about something important to me. The you-know-what hit to proverbial blogging fan at the end of last week when Roni Loren, an author with an amazing blog about all things writing craft and industry, posted a blog recounting her experience of being sued, losing said suit, and being responsible for PAYING DAMAGES over an image she had used on one of her blog posts.

I think all of us casual bloggers gasped when we read it. Who hasn't been looking for that perfect image to spruce up a blog post, ran a Google images search, copy-pasted, and called it a day?

It was a wake-up call for sure, and a reminder that:

1. Photographers own and DESERVE the copyright to their own work, no matter what you're using it for and
2. Even if it's just for an innocent blog post, or pinned to a Pinterest inspiration board, we are still benefiting from the work of others for free.

Now, you all can do whatever you want with this sweet reminder from Roni (thanks, Roni!)
 I did a little internet poking-around myself and found this article, where a photographer who's also a lawyer deleted her Pinterest inspiration boards because she found some fundamental flaws in the Pinterest terms of use vis a vis copyright law. (Plus, some really sound ethical arguments, if you click through to her blog on the topic.)

Look. I don't care if the chances are slim that I could get sued and lose for doing this. Personally, I consider ANY chance that I could be held responsible for thousands of dollars for doing something I consciously knew violated copyright law or even potentially did so to be too much of a chance. Seriously. I'd rather have the cash to go to a writer's conference than spend it getting busted using some image I didn't need to use without permission anyway. Wouldn't you?

On a happy note, I did take some time to track down the creators of some of my Pinterest images I absolutely LOVED. For example, I'd orginally repinned this image:
but when I clicked on it found no link to the creator. Luckily there is a watermark on it.  I Googled "whimsy studios" and found a perfectly lovely Etsy shop where a perfectly lovely lady puts a lot of love and hard work into creating this and other images FOR SALE. 

It turns out that if you go into her Etsy shop, you can "Pin" one of her items for sale onto your Pinterest board from there. So, what's the difference? Well, take a look: 

And it's actually a lot easier to pin it with the price tag and Etsy link on it. In order to pin the image itself, you'd have to navigate to the seller's uploaded SAMPLE image, save it to your hard-drive, then re-upload it to Pinterest.

I'm sorry, but the only reason I could think for anyone to do that would be to use the image free of any pesky price tags that remind us that someone worked hard to create that image and deserves to be paid for it if you're going to use it without reminders of that.

Anyway. I contacted the creator of this image (her name's Lori, by the way, and as I think I already mentioned once or twice, she's lovely) and she said that I could absolutely pin the image to my board, and then she THANKED ME for doing so.

Meaning: whoever originally went to the trouble to pin this image with as few traces of original ownership as possible was really just taking advantage of a really sweet lady trying to make an extra buck by creating pretty pictures for a minimal cost.

The moral of the story (as I see it): I know it sucks, because it's way less fun, and I've TOTALLY been guilty of this, but we really, really, REALLY can't use stuff that other people made for our blogs, Pinterest, etc. without their permission. And we writers, of all people, should know this. We're creative types, and I hope to God that the stuff I create won't be thrown around and free-shared by people who think they deserve access to something I poured my heart, soul, time, and energy into just because they like it, want to read it, or maybe it looks cool on their Pinterest board.

The secondary moral of the story: Artists are awesome, and a lot of them really do want to share their stuff with you. So take a second to ask. My buddy Lydia Kang asked a couple photographers she loved if she could pin their stuff, and they were happy to oblige.

In the future: If you have images that you're fine with giving people free reign to use, make them readily available. I can wrangle a camera okay, and I've done just that with some of my images on this Pinterest board. My friend Cait has done the same on her own Pinterest board, and my friend Jenny has a Flickr stream for the same use. Go ahead, use any of those images without fear of being sued. We promise not to, though it would be nice if you credited back to whoever took the picture, because we worked hard on them, and implying that they're your own is kind of cruddy. But even if you do, we won't sue. Swear.

Whew! This turned into kind of a long rambly post. If you made it to the end, I guess it interested you anyway. 

Were you impacted by the "You could be sued for using images" revelation? Or have you already known that and I've just been living under a rock?*

*I love that you take the time to comment, but if  you're rude or trollish or disturbing to me in any way, I delete yours. No, seriously.


  1. I did know that - I used to write/edit for a group blog and it was VERY well imprinted on our brains by the admins - but what I didn't know until I read Roni's post was that you could still get sued after complying with a cease-and-desist. I tend not to use images for exactly this reason (the gorgeous photos on my website were taken by a very good friend and used with his permission, and I used the copyright line on the site for his stuff since I'm not terribly concerned about anyone wanting to rip off my bio), but I definitely don't give it much thought before repinning or reblogging images on Pinterest or Tumblr. Definitely good to be aware of the repercussions! And good on you guys for starting those new photo sources!! Hoping to join you in that endeavor soon!

  2. Uuuggghhhh. Yeah. This whole thing kind of shocked me. But I like the way you broke it down, and when you think about it, it *isn't* fair to the artists.

    Though I'm still upset about the gifs I'm taking out of my blog post for tomorrow. ;_; It's not the saaaaame!

    Anyway. Thanks for the reminder. AND WAY TO GOOOO (again) on finishing the SOLVING FOR EX draft!! Wooooo! :D

  3. Thanks for "paying-it-forward" in explaining Roni's post in your own words AND starting to group photos others can use freely!

    And way-to-go on all the writing you have been getting done. Amazing!

  4. Very interesting post! I may start taking my own pictures and giving people the rights to them just because it will help out and I don't have a blog or anything to post them on! Oh well that's my weirdness for the day, see you in a few hours!

  5. Yep, I was living under a rock, too. :) I was shocked when I read Roni's post and spent a while Friday night deleting most of the pictures on my blog posts. Scary stuff!

    I love your idea of sharing pictures - I'll have to do that as well.

    And congratulations for finishing your draft! I can't even imagine writing that much in eight days.

  6. Wow, this is soooo fascinating. I've seen all that info on Pinterest before, but I can't believe it's gotten to the point of suing bloggers/pinners. It's so cool that you and other bloggers are opening up your images for free reign usage. LOVE that :)

  7. Awesome post, Leigh Ann! I stopped using images for my blog posts a long time ago precisely because of copyright issues. Now I am rethinking the entire Pinterest thing, too, especially because of Roni's post.

    Just like we, as a writers, wouldn't want others to copy our writing, we should do the same for other artists. So thank you for writing this post. :)

    P.S. I just visited your Pinterest board, and oh wow, you take GORGEOUS pics!

    P.P.S. Congratulations on finishing your draft!

  8. Thanks for the warning. I decided to make a header manually rather than using the one I found on Google images.

  9. Hiya! Quick question - and I know you're not an expert on this, or claiming to be one - but does anyone know about book covers? Does this mean we writers can't share a fellow author's book (especially one we love and want to recommend) even if we take a photo of the book ourselves? I can't figure this out...

  10. Thanks for this, Leigh Ann. I really had no idea.

  11. You are amazing. Thank you for posting your pics, thank you for the warning, and thank you for looking out for us :) <333