Why it’s never OK to steal images from bloggers (or anyone else).

Many bloggers publish their work in the good faith that if someone else wants to use it, and believe me, we usually are flattered when they do, they will have the decency to ask permission from the owner before doing so.

But, of course that isn’t always the case. People will merrily steal your work for use on their website, and if you’re very lucky you might get a credit. If you’re even luckier, you’ll get a link back to your site. But that’s not enough, my work is my property and you wouldn’t come into my house and steal my underpants, so why would you steal my photography?

So, if you’re thinking of stealing my, or anyone else’s, work, stop, think and have a look at a few reasons why it may not be a good idea:

1. The person you’ve stolen the work off may not want to appear on your website
For all you know, the person doesn’t agree with the fundamentals of your website/publication for some reason and would rather they didn’t appear to be a part of it.

2. It’s not OK just to tell them you’ve taken the picture after you’ve already used it
Even if you do have the decency to tell me you took the work I’m still unlikely to be happy. There may be an exception to this rule, for instance, on my website I provide a dedicated press page for bloggers to use pictures from (providing they include link/credit), because I appreciate that sometimes you’ll want to get work up quickly. But that press page only entitles you to use the pictures if what you’re writing about is about my project. Call me selfish if you like, but I’m not a stock library for you to use pictures to illustrate a story about whatever the hell you feel like. So, ask first.

I took this picture, not you, it's mine, ok?

3. I don’t care how good the “exposure” is
A couple of times I’ve had my work stolen and then told that it was “OK”, because it will really help my “exposure” and I can add it to my “portfolio”. Well, I’ve got a couple of problems with this. First of all, as kind as you are to offer exposure on your site, without trying to sound cocky, I probably don’t need it. Obviously, having my photography appear on something like Vogue, National Geographic or the Guardian would increase my exposure.

But if you’re a little blog/website/magazine/ somewhere that no-one’s ever heard of (and yes, I do include my own blog in that category), I’m sorry but I’d rather you asked permission first. No, I’m not a student/”just” a blogger/someone desperate to crack into the industry, before you ask, so I will pick and choose the “exposure” I’d like to receive, thanks.

Secondly, if you don’t bother to give me credit/link back, how on earth is this supposed to give me this precious exposure in the first place?

4. Be nice when you do ask
Sometimes, people assume that because you’re “just” a blogger, you’re going to leap at the chance to have your work featured in another outlet. OK, sometimes that’s true, no-one’s saying it isn’t. But it doesn’t mean I’m willing to put up with an impolite request that doesn’t introduce who you are or what you do and expects me to send you a high-res image within 16 minutes. And just so you know, IF I don’t respond within 12 seconds, it’s probably because I’m busy or something – don’t get your knickers in a twist about it. If it’s that urgent, use a different photographer, or a stock library, that’s what they’re for you know.

5. Don’t be offended when I ask for more than “credit.”
No matter how hard I try, Sainsbury’s just won’t accept the “compliment” that I would “love” to eat their bread as payment. They expect cold hard cash, and rightly so. And, depending on what it is/who you are, I expect cash for my products, services and work too. If I ask to be paid for the use of my picture, and you don’t want to give it to me, don’t be offended when I say you can’t use it.

How to get the pictures you want, without being an arse:

Creative Commons/Stock Libraries
1. You want a picture to use to illustrate a post about something. You’ve got a couple of options. If you’re another blogger, i.e. a non-commercial website, then you can probably find something useful on Flickr via Creative Commons. If you are commercial, you could use a paid for stock library or search for commercial creative commons licences on Flickr, although the choice may be more limited. But, need I say, you get what you pay for.

I took this one too, it's nice isn't it? But it's mine, all mine!

Look for contact details
2. If you do find something you like from a blogger, see if they have contact details so you can let them know. Most bloggers are friendly and will be happy to reply to your query as quickly as they can. To save them (and you) time, have a look to see if they have a press page, copyright notice or any other sign about the use of photos on their blog.

Do your research
3. Always be polite. Don’t assume someone has heard of your publication, and take two minutes to read a blogger’s “about” page. Don’t go with the line “it’ll be great exposure for you” if the photographer is already a seasoned professional, you’ll really only make yourself look stupid. What’s more, don’t ask a photographer do a load of work for you for free to boost THEIR portfolio, just don’t, OK?

Final words
4. Finally – DON’T STEAL. It’s really as simple as that. If you want something, ask for it, if you don’t get what you want, look elsewhere.

Any questions?

One comment

  • I so agree with what you’ve written here. It’s so important to ask before trying to lift anything from anyone else’s site. I’ve been contacted by people before asking if I minded, and in the end I’ve said no for the reasons you mention in this post. Their site and its ethics just don’t resonate with me and there is no advantage to saying yes.

    I’ve also had many people asking me if they could use my art images as profile pics, in banners or to enhance their site in any way and wondering if they could do this in return for a link back to my site. On the whole I would love to have some sort of compensation for that as I otherwise sell reproductions of my artwork. So I reply no those requests too.

    But I’m sure that the number of people just lifting things without asking is huge. It’s easier to track our written work online, but not so with photos. Raising people’s awareness that they are not just up for grabs is very important. Thanks for this post.

    Fiona Stolze

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