Including a photo in your blog post or website article adds important visual appeal. But if the image you want to use isn’t your own, there are some important considerations involved.

We conducted an interview with photographer and blogger, Kristi Bonney, about the Dos and Don’ts of online image use.

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1. There seems to be a lot confusion among website owners and bloggers about using images found on the internet, on their own sites. Is it OK to use any image you find online as long as you provide a link back to the source?

In short, no. It is never okay to use just any photograph you find online without first obtaining permission from the owner of the image, even if you do link back to the source. Photographs, whether published or not, are protected under copyright laws as original works of authorship. You must obtain the owner’s permission to reproduce, display, distribute copies, etc. and in most cases, attribution (crediting) of the work must be provided as well.

2. How do you know if an image is safe to use? Are there websites you’d recommend for free photos?

Unless an image is posted on a stock photo website or belongs to a group like Flickr’s Creative Commons, it’s always a good rule of thumb to assume that it’s off limits and not safe to use. Websites like Dreamstime, Stock.XCHNG and FreeDigitalPhotos.net offer free photos for download. Flickr’s Creative Commons is also another wonderful resource for free photos. Practice caution when using photos from free websites, though, as many of them still require that you credit the owner of the image.

3. Do you recommend any websites that require you to pay for a download of a photo?

Though I don’t use stock photos, I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about Shutterstock, Getty Images and iStockphoto. Their sites are stocked full of amazing high resolution, royalty-free images that are available to download for a fee.

4. What is the proper way to show credit for a photo?

After you’ve obtained permission to use a photo, whether you’ve contacted the owner directly or downloaded the image from a free site, you must provide credit. When crediting the owner of a particular image, it’s important to display their name in a prominent area. Simply providing credit via hover text (the caption that magically appears when one hovers their mouse over an image) is not acceptable. You must provide the owner’s name and link back to the original URL, or source, of the image if at all possible. Equally as important, the photo credit font size must match that of your content. Providing photo credit in a smaller font size is unacceptable.

5. Are there restrictions to editing or altering an image you found online and would like to use on your site?

The general rule of thumb, as far as editing or altering an image you find online goes, is that it’s illegal to do so unless the owner has given you permission to create a derivative or adaption of his work. Under the Creative Common licenses, authors have the liberty to designate whether or not derivatives or adaptations are permissible. If so, you’re still required to credit the author for his original work.

Where do you find your images?

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