As authors, we do everything we can to make sure our work isn’t pirated. It’s heartbreaking to discover that the book that took so much time and effort is being distributed for free without permission, sometimes in a format in which you never released it.
We owe the same respect to creators of other kinds of content, including video, images and fonts.
There are bazillions of images — photos, clipart, textures, sketches, vector drawings — available online. You can download a picture from a website with a click of a button. Same with videos and fonts, although you sometimes have to work a little harder to download them.
You can even search for digital content that is listed as “free”, in that the repository you found it on isn’t asking for payment up front before you download.
That doesn’t mean the content is available for use anywhere and in any way you want. Free doesn’t mean royalty free. Royalty free doesn’t mean unlimited, unrestricted use. Even when you pay for an image, you may be subject to certain restrictions as to how and how often you can use it.
Read the fine print.
Seriously, if you find an image or video or font on a site, read the license agreement! Sometimes you even have to read the license agreement on a specific image, not just the license agreement on the site. Make sure the file is available for commercial use, not just personal use.
Make sure the use limitations are restrictions you can live with. Sometimes a license will limit the number of times an image can be used — so if you’re going to use it as part of your website logo, and your business card, and your letterhead, and maybe inside your book on the About The Author page, and the standard license says 30,000 uses, it’s on you to keep track of how many times it will be seen. Or you have to purchase their extended license.
Microsoft used to include clip art in their software. You could open up Word, use the command to Insert an image, and a library would open up with all sorts of images from the cute to the sublime. They’ve changed how that works, in the latest version, and they have also made it very clear that you are responsible for respecting the license for a particular image. But even years ago when you could insert clipart directly from the built-in library, many of those images were licensed for personal use only. Microsoft probably wasn’t going to chase you down if you used their clipart in a PowerPoint presentation somewhere — but using it for commercial use, such as on a business card or letterhead, was not allowed.
Sometimes clients send me content for their website that I’m not sure they have permission to use. In one memorable instance, a professor of Shakespeare sent me synopsis of every single play, to be used as introductions to his more lengthy discussions. Turned out he hadn’t written the synopses; he had just copied them from someone else’s site. When I received the “cease and desist” letter from the other site owner’s lawyer, I took down his website immediately. I don’t know the final outcome of his legal battle, but I wasn’t going to get in the middle of it!
Now if there’s any question about content, whether it’s text or images, I give clients a choice: either purchase/source another image for which they have licensed permission to use, or sign a document stating that they provided me with the image and any copyright infringement is on them and not on me.
Where can you look?
So where do you find images you can use on your website, in your newsletter, on your business card, for your covers? Here’s a list of stock image resources. Some are free, some work on a subscription basis, some have you buy credits, and some allow you to purchase single images.
Whatever you do, READ THE FINE PRINT!