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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (and Dollars)

Written by Lauren Wolfe | on October 13, 2015 at 2:00 PM


A picture is worth a thousand words. No doubt you’ve heard the phrase before, but have you given it much thought? Not all images are created equal. The right image should capture attention, inform and even persuade. The right image should communicate your message even before the words do. The selection of the right image is crucial – it should convey a feeling, add to the message and be unique. Sometimes that’s a lot to ask for.  

Where do the pictures (images, artwork and photographs) come from that are used on your community site?

If you’re like many, the answer is Google. After all, it’s so tempting to use Google images because it’s accessible, fast, seems to have an infinite selection and there is no charge or subscription. I don’t blame you. But the problem is it might not be legal or good quality. While I’m not a legal expert, I do keep up with the facts. As a creative director, I’m making decisions on images every day. One source I rely on for updated information is Venable LLP.   

So what’s the problem? Currently with evolving technologies and software, many organizations are being called out for copyright infringement and are now facing legal exposure. Check out TinEye – it’s an image search company that allows you to perform a reverse image search. Photographers can search a database of 12.5 billion images to look for their work. Companies and organizations can search that same database for their logos or other copy written creative material. (Sidebar activity: Search for your community site logo. See what’s out there – you might be surprised.)

Here are five tips to avoid a misunderstanding or lawsuit: 

  1. Sign up for a stock photo subscription. Subscriptions can help defer image-by-image purchase costs and usually come with other cool perks. At Higher Logic, we use iStock and Big Stock. (Designer tip: If you purchase a stock photo, buy the image at the largest file size. This way you can use the image for web and print projects.)
  2. Hire a graphic designer. He/She will know the rules and be able to create custom images with no worries.
  3. When it comes to photos, assume it’s subject to copyright and don’t use it without the appropriate permission. If you use photos from a photographer, obtain written permission to use them. Confirm up front and have no worries later on. Most contracts include this permission, but it’s smart to look for it.
  4. When in doubt, link out. By that I mean include a credit statement or link to the source image. Example: If you’re using a thumbnail image and link to the original location, there is greater likelihood of finding fair use than if you just post the original image with no credit.
  5. Educate your team to prevent any liability issues. Post a folder on your intranet that includes approved imagery. Ask each department to participate so you can share the stockpile.

Lastly, you should always consult with legal counsel for the greatest certainty. Venable LLP sums it up best in a recent article: The key takeaway, of course, is that if it is on the internet, it is not necessarily free; the time of perceived free rides is over, due to the new tracking technologies. Before any photograph is used, it should be properly licensed. Save yourself grief, and attorney's fees. Don't cut and paste—license!

Topics: Marketing, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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