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Pictures Don’t Count, Right?

It’s as legal as trading commercial MP3s online. (Not!)

Photographers, artists, and graphic designs put just as much time, effort, and expense (for travel and equipment) into their work as writers do. Just as you shouldn’t plagiarize or violate the copyright of written texts, images deserve the same consideration. If you need to use an image, you can create your own, look for free graphics sites online, purchase an image, or contact the creator for permission to use it. There also are a good number of sites where image creators offer their work to be used for free for personal, non-commercial use, asking only for credit and a link back to their site.

Nevertheless, you’ll find that bloggers frequently borrow images from other websites without permission because they know that the worst thing that will happen is that the copyright holder can send them a take down notice, a formal letter which says “stop using my image because I own it.” If you do choose to do like other bloggers, be sure to properly attribute whose picture it is and where it came from; even though you borrowed the content without permission, many copyright holders might be appeased when they see proper credit is given. Also, you should copy the image to your server rather than linking to a copy of the image on the orignal server so that you are not using the original artists’ bandwidth.

Outside of classroom settings where you may be using an image to make a point in an online essay or as part of a mashup or other project (see the next section), you should only use other people’s visuals after you have obtained permission from the copyright holder. Even if you are creating a website for a client as part of a service learning project or in an internship, think carefully before using images you find on the web. You’ll want to avoid the professional embarrassment your client or employer would receive from a take down notice.