Developing a Photography Policy for Your Blog

By Susan and Willian Brinson. Photography by Willian Brinson for The House of Brinson.

Your photography is a valuable asset that represents your brand. The importance of great photography in media is proven by the success of websites like Pinterest and other similar platforms beginning to emerge. When I first started blogging, I was shocked that others would use our images without asking--essentially breaking copyright laws. Since then, I have learned more about blogging and come to understand the culture. Blogging and social media have a very unique culture of sharing, different from traditional forms of media.

I would hate to see a blogger get sued over photography, and say, "I wish I would have known." Topics like this are becoming critical, especially if you have advertising on your blog. From the eyes of a photographer, it makes the blogger with advertising no different that the magazine with advertising. I fully believe brands are going to get smart and begin protecting their brand assets (photography) in the coming years. With the advancement of image based search engines, finding copyright violations is becoming very easy.

To determine your comfort zone for your blog and your brand, let's look at this topic from two points of view - a blogger using the photography of others, and a blogger creating original photography:

A BLOGGER USING THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF OTHERS

If you use an image without written permission from the copyright owner, you can be sued. Consider this heavily when writing your policy. As we go though the steps on what to ask and consider when creating your photography policy, put yourself in the shoes of the individual that created the image. This will help you make better decisions for your brand and the creative community as a whole.

Do you have permission to use this image in writing?
If the answer is no, you are violating copyright. If it is yes, you are in good shape. Keep this written permission on record.

Can you confirm that the permission was received form the copyright owner?
When you ask permission, confirm that person is the copyright owner and not simply a person using someone else's image.

Are you promoting the photographer/image creator?
If yes, photographers/copyright owners can be a little more relaxed. However, if you don't have written permission to post the images, you are still violating copyright.

Are you promoting the brand that owns the image?
Brands have different agreements with the photographer who shoot their products. The best thing to do is ask for a press kit, which will include images approved for use. Because it's impossible to know the contract the brand has with the photographer, play it safe. If your blog were a magazine, this is the process you would follow: ask for a press image, or have a photographer take a photo for you so that you own the copyright.

Are you using the image to promote your own idea/concept?
This is the most critical in my opinion. If you are using someone else's work to promote your idea, then it is very high risk. The whole point of hiring a photographer is to visually express an idea that sets a tone and mood. If you take someone's original work to accomplish this purpose for your own publication (blog), the situation is high risk. Of course, the point of view is highly personal; put yourself in the shoes of those who created the photograph.

A BLOGGER CREATING ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Did the person ask to use the image? Do they have your written permission?
If the answer is no to either question, consider sending a cease and desist, or an invoice depending on the situation. If you provided permission, make sure you understand how the images will be used and in what context. Consider model releases if the images have kids in them.

Is the image being used to promote your brand?
If yes, ask yourself if you are comfortable leaving it up. Did a fellow blogger write a glowing review of your images, or promote your photography business? Consider the context before asking for it to be taken down.

Is the image being used on a site with advertising?
If yes, the issue becomes more serious and you need to analyze if you should have been compensated for your image.

Is the image being used to promote the sites original ideas/content?
If yes, seek compensation and/or send a cease and desist.

Is the image used in an advertisement or in a promotional way for a business?
If yes, seek compensation. There is no excuse for this. If you don't have an agent, you might want to consult on what to charge for the copyright infringement.

Do you have a direct financial loss from others using this image?
This can be a difficult question to answer, as it is often based on unique circumstances. For instance, so many people might have used a photograph without asking that the photographer can't sell it for stock. Publications want exclusive images, not something everyone has already seen. Or a food producer who makes donuts might have posted your image on their blog, and now their competition won't hire you because you are associated with the competition. If a you as a photographer lost out on shooting an advertising campaign because of this, you have the right to sue for the loss of income.

THE BIG TAKEAWAYS

I wrote our blog photo usage policy to best represent us and our blog. Our blog is 100% original photography, the only exception is if we are promoting an event are attending or something we have contributed to. Our usage requirements are clearly outlined on our blog:

  • Our images cannot be used in a way that is not promotional to us as the entire post, or a good part of the post.
  • A link back and credit is not acceptable if the website using the images has advertising.
  • If a company or blog with advertising uses our images without asking, we send a cease and desist and most of the time an invoice.
  • One item we always consider when deciding to send a cease and desist is the blogging community; how much PR the post is generating? We do try and promote sharing, but within the right parameters.

We'll be discussing this, and other issues about photography and copyright associated with blogging at our class What You Really Need to Know About Photos and Copyright on Alt Channel. Join us for an open dialogue and get your questions answered.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer. Therefore, you shouldn't regard the contents of this article as legal advice. Instead, it contains my opinions on proper copyright etiquette. My background is in advertising and I am married to a photographer. 

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Eden Hensley

Marketing creative, community engagement specialist, technophile, photographer, food and wine enthusiast, and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Road to The Good Life, a lifestyle blog about appreciating and enhancing your life by being grateful for the "haves" instead of lingering on the "wants." There you will find personal stories about my life and family weaved in with real-life, achievable entertaining tips, recipes for hearty home cooked meals, and DIY projects for capturing and sharing memories. I believe the best place to swap stories is over a shared meal, preferably a Thai-meal served family style, and teach an online introduction class to Thai Flavors and host the Family Dinners at The Station supper club in San Francisco.