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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Violating the Copyright Laws?

by Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL

 ©Stina Lindenblatt*

You have no doubt heard it a thousand times. Social media is essential if you want to succeed as a writer. And if you’ve checked out all the difference platforms available, you’ll notice they all have something in common: pictures.

The use of pictures or any sort of visual display adds interest to the post, especially on blog and Facebook posts. And they’re essential when you’re dealing with Pinterest and Tumblr.

As many of you know, there’s a nifty term called copyright. It protects our writing from being used without our permission. It protects songwriters’ lyrics from showing up in books and in the lyrics of other songs. Yes, read that sentence again if you were thinking of including copyrighted songs in your story. And it protects artists and photographers from having their pictures used without monetary reimbursement. If the work is copyrighted, you don’t have the right to use it without the creator’s permission.

But how do we know if the photos we want to use are copyrighted? Often we find pictures through Google images, and most of the time the pictures don’t list the photographer or don’t have a copyright symbol (©) associated with it. Except, there doesn’t need to be any of these things for the picture to be copyrighted. In Canada and the USA, the moment a picture is taken, it is automatically copyrighted. Just like the moment your words flow onto the page, they are copyrighted. You don’t need to register them to make them legally yours (though it is recommended that you do it if you publish them).

So what does this mean if you want to use a photo that doesn’t belong to you and you want to post it on your social media site? It means if you didn’t get permission from the owner of the picture, they have the right to sue you. The same is true if you decide to use more than a line from a copyrighted song on any form of social media or in your story. The songwriter can sue you.

Now you may be thinking, “But how is a photographer going to know I used their photo?” Bestselling author Roni Loren was sued last year for using on her blog a photo that didn’t belong to her. She thought she was safe by posting where she found the photo. That’s not true. She was still vulnerable. Apparently the photographer had a way of tracking down his photos when they were used without his permission. I’ve even stumbled across a blog that used a photo I’d taken, and the blogger never gave me credit (no, I didn’t sue her. I did email her, though).

When it comes to copyrighted material, don’t take the chance. It’s not worth it. If you’ve self published a story and used lyrics from a Rolling Stone’s song, what happens if the book because a bestseller and someone who knows the band reads your book? Hey, it could happen. If you self publish a story, expect to pay for the pictures you use, unless you get it from a stock photo site that allows you to use certain photos for free. But remember, if you do this you’re at risk of ten other authors having the same cover photo as you. I’ve seen that happen before, too.

Do you use photos on your social media that don’t belong to you? Have you found a site that allows you to use photos for free? Did you know you can only use a line from lyrics before you’re infringing on the copyright laws?

*(Don’t worry. If you violate the copyright laws, you won’t be sent to Alcatraz.)

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes young adult and new adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog


Jai said...

This is good to know. I thought as long as you gave a link to where you found the photo you were fine.

Thanks for the information. I'm off to change a few things.

Unknown said...

I knew this, but also heard that unless you're making money from your blog (as the author was by drawing people to her books) people don't tend to sue so much as be annoyed. But using free images is better. My blog's background is made from a free image I found online. :)

Stephsco said...

@Laura, you may be right that people don't "tend" to sue, but do you really want to take the risk? I would suggest visiting Roni Loren's site and read about her experience. You'd be surprised how far it can go with something so seemingly innocent.

There are many, many free images available. Do the extra work to find them. Some of the stock photo sites have cheap options to use copyrighted images.

Anonymous said...



James Garcia Jr said...

Thanks, Stina. This is a very important post - especially for beginners. I remember those early days when there was simply way too much to have to know. Hopefully this info comes in handy before anyone gets into any trouble.


Yvonne Osborne said...

Great information. No...essential information!

Anne R. Allen said...

Excellent advice, Stina, and very well put. I have guest coming to my blog on Sunday who's going to tell us what to do if we really, really have to use that Rolling Stones lyric. Some song lyrics are actually affordable. Not the ones from Mick and Keith though ;-)

Stina said...

Anne, I'd hate to think what Mick and Keith would charge for their lyric. :)

Henri said...

I often use pictures from Wikipedia. I haven't had any problems except for one photographer, who requested that I give him credit. I had forgotten this important little detail and promptly corrected the situation without any further problems.

Stephanie Cain said...

This is a great reminder!

I've been using Wylio to find photos for my blog that are licensed under Creative Commons use. I believe WordPress has a plugin (Zemanta, maybe?) that does that for you as well. Of course, if I can possibly take a photo myself, I do that instead. It's just another way to own my content. :)

Anne R. Allen said...

My post is up on how to get the rights to song lyrics. It turns out they aren't so expensive unless you end up with a bestseller-- http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2013/03/so-you-want-to-use-song-lyrics-in-your.html

Erin Kane Spock said...

I was under the impression that any suit had no basis unless you made money on the use of that photo. My blog makes no money, so I thought the worst they could do was ask the photo be removed. Am I wrong?