Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Images, Animated Gifs, and Copyright Law for Bloggers

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

For Bloggers everywhere, copyright infringement is a concern that often lingers in our minds as we post images and wonder if we are breaking the law. I've wondered this many times myself before. And several of you have asked about this. So I consulted James Scott Bell for help on those gray areas I wasn't sure of (Thanks, Jim!) and managed to put together this post. I hope it helps.

Copyright law is designed to protect the creator of a work from people using that work without paying or obtaining permission. (For a more information on copyright law, click here.) Copyright law is sometimes a very gray area, and it can be difficult to know when you've crossed the line. Here are some things I can tell you are blatantly illegal:

-Downloading pirated ebooks, music, TV shows, or movies.
-Using pirated images to make book covers, T-shirts, or any product that you sell or helps you profit (which would include advertising images).
-Putting song lyrics into your book without gaining permission and paying the appropriate fees. (The fees are not a set amount. Each owner decides whether or not to grant permission and how much to charge.)

So what does pirated mean?



1. a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea.
2. a ship used by such persons.
3. any plunderer, predator, etc.: confidence men, slumlords, and other pirates.
4. a person who uses or reproduces the work or invention of another without authorization.
5. Also called pirate stream. Geology. a stream that diverts into its own flow the headwaters of another stream, river, etc.

verb (used with object), pi·rat·ed, pi·rat·ing.
6. to commit piracy upon; plunder; rob.
7. to take by piracy: to pirate gold.
8. to use or reproduce (a book, an invention, etc.) without authorization or legal right: to pirate hit records.
9. to take or entice away for one's own use: Our competitor is trying to pirate our best salesman.

verb (used without object), pi·rat·ed, pi·rat·ing.
10. to commit or practice piracy.

I highlighted the definitions of pirate that applied to our discussion. But basically, it's stealing. If you copy and paste an image or download it from online without paying for it, you pirated it.

So what can you do, then? What's legal?

First, you need to understand fair use. The fair use law is designed to defend the user against a claim of copyright infringement when the subject matter was used to teach, offer criticism, or parody. (For a longer definition of fair use law, click here.) But you can use certain materials when you are teaching, critiquing, or mocking (in a kind way).

Teaching ( Give Commentary)
When I write blog posts, I often use images from movies in my posts. This falls in line with fair use laws. In the Go Teen Writers book, Stephanie and I were able to quote many passages from published novels without obtaining written permission from the publishers of those book because of the fair use law. We were very careful not to abuse this by:

-Using passages of 300 words or less.
-Using each passage as an example of something the author did well. (We never used a quote to say something negative.)
-Using only one example per novel.
-Citing the author's name and book title with each quote.

In doing this, we kept everything in line with the fair use law.

A writer or blogger offers critique when they write a review of something. This is most done in our industry in book reviews. You legally can post an image of a book cover for a book you are writing a review for. And you can legally quote a few lines from the book as well.

This is when you make fun of something. And here, you should be careful. Weird Al writes parodies of famous songs. But, if I'm not mistaken, he gets permission first to keep himself out of trouble. Some people just don't have his sense of humor.

If you are posing images or animated gifs on your blog that come from movies or television, you do not need to get permission. A production studio could see it and decide to make an issue out of it. But they probably would never see it, and even if they did, they probably wouldn't take issue with it. Prosecuting such things is not worth their time and money. Plus, most these blogs only help spread the word about their book or movie. It's free advertising.

I made a series of flyers for an event for our youth group once that used famous movie posters. I took photos of my husband and me and re-made the posters. This is another an example of using copyrighted material to make fun of or parody. Altering an image or video that is copyrighted falls under fair use law as long as you are not using the image for profit and as long as the image does not convey the idea that the original creator is endorsing you. Both those things are deceitful on your part and break copyright law.

Un-famous Images
For pictures that don't fall under fair use law, things get trickier. There are a lot of artists out there---photographers and graphic artists---who are looking to build careers. They put their images online, often on royalty photo sites like iStock Photo or Shutterstock. These are places where they can sell their images. It is illegal for you to copy and paste these and use them for any reason. It is illegal for you to open the image in Photoshop and erase the watermark. These images are for sale, and taking them without paying is stealing.

People download pirated ebooks, movies, TV shows, and songs all the time. And it's illegal. And as authors, we should understand what this means to other artists. When it happens, the musician, author, or artist doesn't get paid.

It can be difficult to know for certain whether or not an image is copyright protected. The only way to know for certain is to purchase images or to use images that have a Creative Commons license. To learn more about Creative Commons, click here.

It's not worth my time to bother searching for Creative Commons images to use. But there are some sites out there in which you can find free images quickly.

Getty Images offers a wide variety of images that can be used for blogging without charge, and they make it easy for users as well. Simply let your cursor hover over the image and click on the embed icon.

Here are some other image sites to consider. Just make sure you read the Terms of Use for each site:

Any questions about copyright infringement?


  1. Thank you so much for posting this, Ms. Williamson.

  2. Thanks, Jill for all that info. :)

  3. Thanks, Jill. As a blogger, I try to make sure that I'm not breaking any copyright laws. I write book review, so it's good to know I can use the cover images!

  4. Thanks for the post! This has been bothering me since I started my blog, thanks. :)

  5. Thanks for the post! This is super-helpful!

  6. Thanks for this. So watching movies online is probably illegal too, right? Thank you

    1. If you're watching them through a pirated site, yes.

  7. You're welcome, everyone. I'm glad it's helpful.

  8. So quoting some song lyrics, even if it is under three hundred words, is illegal? I just want to make sure. :) Thanks for the post!

    1. Yes, unless the songs are old enough to be in the public domain (which is for songs published prior to 1922). You can put song lyrics in your story, but be aware that if you get published, the publisher might not want to deal with the hassle and ask you to take them out. And if you self publish, you have to figure out how to pay for the use of them on your own. Here is a link to the rules for music:

    2. Thanks so much! :)

  9. Thank you, this helps a lot!! I wonder, is it okay to use an image of a TV or movie star from online if the use is only as a stand-in/model for your characters? Not on covers or in any way for money, of course, just as sort of a visual aid for the character.

    1. I've done that before. I think it's probably okay. I can't imagine photographers who work for magazines bothering to pay someone to surf the net and sue everyone who is using pics they took. But if the picture has a copyright logo in the bottom corner, I'd avoid using that one. You could make the argument that you're using the picture to teach since you are saying this person looks like your character.

      What you don't want to do, is find pictures from friend of a friend's Facebook pages and use those. A person could sue you and possibly win. Judges tend to take a person's fame into consideration in these cases. Famous people have to deal with things like people posting their pictures everywhere. But non famous people don't. So in the case of using pics of people you don't know off FB, I'd think a judge would side with the person whose picture you used without permission.

    2. What about pictures of people of Getty images? Are there different rules for pictures of people, even if the image is free?

  10. Awesome! I try not to steal any images, but sometimes I wonder when I just google. Thanks for the websites, I'll check 'em out! By the way, is it okay to share book covers on your blog when you aren't reviewing... but just to spotlight the book, or whatnot?

  11. I'm pretty sure I've asked this before... but is it all right to mention the name of a song? And talk about it playing, but not reciting the lyrics or anything? Like "A Whole New World" is a song I reallly *really* want to use in one of my books.

    1. The title of a song can not be copyrighted and you can use it. At least, that's what I've been told.

    2. The title of a song can not be copyrighted and you can use it. At least, that's what I've been told.

  12. THIS IS GREAT. When I started blogging I had zero idea about copyrights and I honestly did a LOT of things wrong (I've since deleted a lot of my discretions thank goodness). I learnt all of these rules a few years back, so I'm happy to learn after reading this that I'm on the right track and NOT pirating anything! But this is a super helpful post and I'm totally bookmarking it. :))

  13. Im about to start reading your Blood of Kings series and I can't wait! Im getting them from the library today :)

    1. sorry that was completely off topic!

  14. I saw an image on a blog that I really like, but I can't find where the person got it from. Is there a way to tell where pictures on blogs come from?

  15. What if I use images from the internet for my own personal use such as a book cover for a story that I won't show anyone but me and a couple of friends?

  16. If I own a book or something, can I take a picture of it and use it on my blog?

  17. I just found your blog and I have a question, i have a book club and we get together socially, i saw a gif online and wanted to put it on a tshirt.

    Not to sell just for our group to wear, is that copyright

  18. If i am wanting to use a gif from tumblr would i have to ask for permission off who created it?

  19. How do I copyright an animated gif I've created? Do I have to show the copyright on every image that makes up the gif, or would showing it at the end suffice?