I recently ran into my copywriter friend, Maria. She had gotten a great job handling all of the social media posts of a very large company. Her posts were insightful and interesting, but as I kept reading through her posts, the photos she was using started to worry me.
I asked if she was downloading the photos from Google Image Search. “No, I don’t want to violate any copyrights. I only grab photos from Flickr that are licensed for commercial use” Maria said.
“Good thinking, but you can still end up in court over these photos,” I warned her.
She was surprised and couldn’t understand how the photos could get her, or her employer in trouble. They looked great, and were licensed by the photographer. What could the problem be?
What she hadn’t noticed was that the photo of the car driving down the street had it’s license plate visible, and you could clearly make out the faces of the kids in the concert photo. Was the driver of the car driving without insurance, was the girl in the concert underage at a licensed event? There was no way to know what the story behind the people in the photos was, or whether the photographer had obtained legal releases from them.
Good marketing pros know that just because an image is on the web doesn’t give you permission to use it in your marketing campaigns. You also need to make sure that the photos you’re using cover a variety of legal realities. Whenever you can identify a person, that photo needs a model release. That famous landmark probably needs a property release. These releases confirm that the person or property owner have given their permission to have their “image” used for promoting what you’re selling.
Wikipedia explains the basics of model releases well.
No release is required for publication, as news, of a photo taken of an identifiable person when the person is in a public place. In general, no release is required for publication of a photo taken of an identifiable person when the person is in a public space unless the use is for trade or direct commercial use, which is defined as promoting a product, service, or idea. Publication of a photo of an identifiable person, even if taken when the person is in a public place, for commercial use, without a model release signed by that person, can result in civil liability for whoever publishes the photograph
There was no way to confirm if those photos had releases, so with each post she was exposing her company to potential lawsuits. Maria didn’t know what to do, should she stop posting photos?
“Your company really needs to start using licensed stock photography. The monthly cost is less than even a nuisance lawsuit, and you’ll still get great images.” I said.
Shutterstock and iStockphoto are two stock photography sites that I’ve used previously. Each service offers millions of images for virtually any topic imaginable, and all their images have property and model releases. So you’ll never have to worry about getting an angry call or letter from an attorney. In fact, they’re so meticulous that when I tried to submit a photo from the early 1800’s they wouldn’t accept it as I couldn’t provide a model release…even though the model had been dead for over 150 years.
Even bloggers with no budgets can now take advantage of high quality licensed photography. Getty Images recently started offering an embed code for many of its images. The disadvantage here is that the images aren’t licensed for commercial use and are quite expensive compared to microstock sites. If you decide to use an image in an advertising campaign, you could be looking at several hundred to thousands of dollars for that single image.
While Flickr has millions of terrific Creative Commons Commerically licensed photos, you’ll always be left wondering if an image is safe to use. Invest in licensed stock photography and you’ll take some of the worry out of your job.