With the blogosphere currently growing at around 120,000 blogs a day it’s no surprise that most of my day seems to be spent stuck behind Google Reader, rapid scanning articles to find something of interest – or something not involving Britney at least. Most professional bloggers know this is how we all work now, so in an effort to grab our attention they use the trick of posting an image into the text. The image, depending on how we react to it, will stop most people in their tracks and make them look more closely at a post. Definitely a handy tool in the blogging arsenal.
So all well and good, blog authors can just take their camera out, snap a few cool photos relating to their well written post, and see the viewership ramp up – and one can only assume their sponsorship and adwords payouts as well. A just reward for creating their own quality content and fostering their audience. But wait. It turns out that most bloggers, professional or otherwise, don’t take their own photos.. What! It seems you can just go to a site like Flickr, search for a photo you like and put it up on your site – generally with a handy link back to the photo’s original owner (the attribution). Clever. Why bother taking a photo when someone already has, and by attributing the photo’s owner also gets kudos. Everyone is happy.
Hold on a mo though. The professional blogger is making money from their post.. but does any of this money go back to the photo owner? I mean. They haven’t paid stock fees or anything. That’s OK though, as most photos on Flickr are under Creative Commons licences – the modern form of licencing that supports things like sharing without profit, and creating derivative works. For example, if I take a photo and want to let other, not for profit organisations or artists take it and edit it as they like, then I can set a licence for that under Creative Commons – I can even require that the new output is ‘share alike’ – ie, it also has to be shared. As Jean-Luc Godard said, “It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take things to”. Perfect. Everyone’s happy. If a business wants to use the same photo they can approach the owner and ask to licence it, which generally results in a win win.
So we have a situation where professional bloggers sometimes take CC licenced, non-commercial, photos and putting them on their blogs. What gives with that? These bloggers are, plain and simple, breaking the terms of the licence. Should a professional blogger use fully open licenced photos, with free commercial usage then that’s fine and right, but any other licence does not match with their business use. One could argue that where the image is attributed it’s actually beneficial to the photographer – having their photos exposed to a major blog audience, but again this should be the photographer’s choice – unless it is an appropriate usage such as direct publicising of their work.
To summarize: If you’re writing a blog and want to use a photo, then just make sure the photo is licenced correctly for your use – whether personal (non commerical) or professional (commercial). If in doubt, contact the photographer, or find another photo. For photographers, always keep an eye out for your images being linked and you have every right to ask for it to be removed should you want – of course you might enjoy the extra publicity, but that should be your choice. For the rest of us, if you see images inappropriately used in a post then you can always follow the image attribution link through and let the photographer know their image was used in a post on their site, allowing them to make a decision about their content. In a few years this might become moot, as Google, Flickr or someone, creates a service to search for your images being used across the net – proper image for image searching, not text based.