how to use someone else's work

What Does That (copyrighted) Image Mean to You?

In Copyrights 101 by Shannon Montgomery

Last week I discussed defamation, one of the multiple issues that might affect a social media influencer and their growing business. This week we are turning to a more commonly discussed issue and one that I have discussed at length here on the blog copyrights.

I am not going to discuss what a copyright is, how you protect it, or how it is different than other intellectual property you or your business might own (check out this or this article for that information). Because today I want to talk about what you’re probably more concerned with. And that is, how you can use copyrighted material in your business as an online entrepreneur or social media influencer.

What is Prohibited?

The internet is not a free for all. Just because an image exists in a google search does not mean it is available for use by you in any of the content you’re creating. All of those images you find online whether on someone’s blog or through a random search are copyrighted and therefore owned by someone else. Of course, the copyright owner might not care about the image and may be perfectly fine with the reuse and redistribution of their work, but then again maybe they do care.

And you likely don’t want to be on the other side when a copyright holder elects statutory damages over actual damages and is awarded up to $30,000, or worse if they can show willful infringement on your part up to $150,000.

But what if you want to use an image you found?

I get asked a lot of questions surrounding intellectual property. They pop into my inbox or come through a direct message, and the large majority of these questions involve the use of another’s photo. Blogging seems to be the most popular place to use photos and images, but I have had questions on recipe e-books and other downloadable content as well.

As I stated if you did not take the photo-it does not belong to you. And this goes for any piece of content (music, videos etc). In fact, I may make that the auto response from my email at this point because people seem to lack an understanding of that basic fact.

This is not to say that in certain places the sharing of another’s image hasn’t become commonplace. I know on Instagram it is normal to use some type of sharing app to share a photo or post to your followers from someone else. Generally, those apps give credit to the person who made the post originally, or the person reposting will do this, and as a community, people on Instagram have decided this is fine. Legally speaking this could still be considered infringement but it hasn’t proved to be much of an issue just yet (but do me a favor and don’t take the images off of Instagram without following one of the below steps).

What you need to do if you want to use an image you did not create

Option 1: This one is simple and won’t take long…take your own photographs and produce your own images. If you’re artsy at all and have a smartphone, this is a great option.

Option 2: ASK PERMISSION!! Yes, you can 100% ask someone to use their image. Mind blowing, right? Instead of just reposting something willy-nilly shoot that person an email, and get their permission (in writing) to repost or reuse their image in the blog post or e-book you’re working on. Using something and giving the original author credit will not suffice. Repeat after me, if I didn’t create it, it isn’t mine, and just giving someone credit still doesn’t make it right. That is your new mantra. There are plenty of creatives that will not care that you used their image. However, they still have the legal right to come after you. So, the best practice is and always will be to just ask for permission.

Option 3: Use stock images. There are so many websites out there now that offer free or low-cost stock images for public use. HubSpot, Life of Pix, Pexels, Death to the Stock Photo, Unsplash just to name a few. All of these are great places to find artsy well-designed images. One thing to note when using or purchasing stock photos is that you will want to find out what the websites license for those images states. It may be very restrictive, or it may state that all images can be used in any manner. Whatever the case might be, you need to find out before you begin using the images from that website.

Option 4: Use other licensed images. You can also find licensed images from sites like Creative Commons that are for purchase and for reuse. Again, ensure that the license you are purchasing allows you to use the image in the manner you need to so that you don’t violate the licensing agreement. There will likely be restrictions on how you can use the image, how long, and when and if you need to give attribution to the artists, so be on the lookout for those things.

Repeat after me…

I hope you get the point by now. But if you’re still confused feel free to email me at and I will see if I can help out with your situation. Just remember, if you didn’t create it, it isn’t yours, and the best practice is to always get permission prior to using it.


Please note that this is not meant to be legal advice for you or your situation, this is merely some legal research and knowledge on the given topic.