Please don’t steal my photos; how to use images on your blog without getting into trouble

watering can planters in Lewiston
Sometimes people don’t realize that when they use a photo of mine without asking permission, they are actually stealing. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Sometimes people steal my photos, and when I find out, it upsets me.

When I tell the thieves that I have caught them and they must take my photo off their website, they’re often upset, too, because they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong.

Many people think that they can take any photo they find on the Internet and use it on their own blog or website. It’s okay, they think, as long as they indicate where they got the photo and they link back to the website where they found the photo.

Nope, that’s not how it works.

If you do that, you may be notified that, not only do you have to take down the photo, you owe the copyright owner money.

Don’t let that happen to you. Find out how to use photos without getting into trouble at a talk I’ll be giving at a meeting of the WordPress Users Group at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 7 in Room 122 of Lyons Hall at Canisius College, 2001 Main St., Buffalo.

The talk is free and open to the public. You don’t have to use WordPress to attend the talk. Find out more about WordPress Users in Buffalo.

I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t advise you on what to do in particular situations, but here are some guidelines to help you use photos on your blog or website without getting into trouble.

Understand that most photos on the Internet are copyrighted

As soon as I snap the shutter on my camera, I obtain the copyright to the image I just created. I own that photo and I can decide how it is used.

Copyright is an automatic right. I don’t have to file papers to obtain copyright to a photo I made.

I don’t have to use a copyright symbol or use the word copyright when I post the photo on my website; I still own the copyright to my photos.

Some people put the words copyright right on the photo to discourage theft. I don’t do that because I think it makes the photo less attractive for my readers. But I still own the copyright.

So when you see the word “copyright” or the copyright symbol ©, you’ve been alerted that the photo is copyrighted.

But when you don’t see a copyright symbol, the photo can still be copyrighted!

Most photos are copyrighted.

Ask permission before you use a copyrighted photo

view of pallets as vegetable garden showing brace in Buffalo NY
This is actually one of my most popular, and therefore, most valuable photos. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you want to use something that someone else owns, ask them for permission.

Some people who post their photos to the Internet might be flattered that you like their photo so much that you want to use it. They may let you use it for free if you to give them a photo credit or to link back to their website.

Others will allow you to use the photo if you pay them.

Others won’t allow you to use a photo at all.

How do you know whether you can use a copyrighted photo from someone’s blog or website? Ask them.

I have allowed some sites, such as the National Garden Festival, now called Garden Walk Buffalo Niagara, to use my photos for free. I’m glad to be able to help this great garden festival.

I do gardening columns for the Springville Journal and Hamburg Sun. They pay me so they can use my photos.

But there are some photos that I won’t sell to just any site. Why? The short answer is that the photos drive traffic to my website. They’re so valuable to me that I don’t want another site using them.

The photo you see here of the A-frame planter has been repinned 1,000 times on Pinterest. It has sent, and continues to send, lots of people to my website. If another gardening site uses the photo, someone may pin my photo from that other gardening site. Now that pin links back to the other gardening site, driving traffic to their site instead of mine.

You might be grateful if someone uses your photo and links back to your website, but not everyone feels the same way. You must get permission before you use a copyrighted photo.

Find sources of paid and free photos

Rather than taking a photo from someone’s website or blog, you can find plenty of wonderful photos that you are allowed to use.

Some you have to pay for. Some are free, but you have to credit the photographer and/or credit the photo website.

You must read and follow the conditions carefully!

Here are some sites where you can find photos:


All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero, which means you can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer or Unsplash. One drawback to this site is that it isn’t easily searchable. (There is a search box to the left. You have to look very hard to find it.)


The images are free as long as you stick to the rules in the Image license Agreement. Also, in some cases you may need to notify the artists about using the images and sometimes you need to give credit to them. The quality of the images varies.


A morgue file is a newspaper term for the place where they store files after production. morgueFile says its purpose is to provide free image reference material for use in all creative pursuits and to be the morgue file for the Internet. In addition to offering free photos, this site links to other paid sites. You can easily find yourself on one of the paid sites.


Photos8 is a paid site with more of a worldwide flavor rather than an American flavor. Photos suitable for the Internet cost $2 each. is a subscription-based website that provides members with unlimited downloads of stock graphics, stock images, icons, buttons, backgrounds, textures and more. Instead of charging per download, they allow members to download as much as they want. You can subscribe by the month for $49 or by the year for $588. There is a seven-day free trial.


This is a paid site, but it has lots of photos that are geared for blogs and websites. You can buy credits or buy a subscription.

Do you have photo sites you like? Please let us know by leaving a comment.

Get more information

If you want to know more about fair use, public domain and other matters related to use of photos on the Internet, check out these articles:

The Best Ways to be Sure You’re Legally Using Online Photos

Photography and Copyright Law

Copyright Fair Use and How it Works for Online Images


9 Comments on “Please don’t steal my photos; how to use images on your blog without getting into trouble

  1. Carol, you don’t have to do anything. Copyright is an automatic right.

    You can register your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office, but generally you don’t need to. If you think you may end up suing someone who steals your photos, you may want to register. You can still get damages in a lawsuit if don’t register, but you can ask for more money in damages if do register.

    My main concern is to get my stolen photos taken down off the offending websites quickly, and I have been able to do that without registering them with the U.S. Copyright Office.

    If I couldn’t reach the owners of the website that was using my photo, or if the owners didn’t respond to my request for them to remove my photo, I was able to go to the host of the website and file a DMCA Takedown Notice. Hosting companies can be held liable if a website uses a stolen photo, so they act quickly on these notices. If the site owners don’t remove the offending material, the host company can shut down the website, so site owners act quickly, too. You don’t have to provide proof that you own the photo; you simply have to state (under penalty of perjury) that you own the copyright. The people who stole your photo know they don’t own the copyright to the photo, so they don’t contest the claim.

    Here is a great article that explains it well.

  2. How do we copyright our photos? You mentioned that as soon as you snap the shutter on your camera, you obtain the copyright to the image you just created. How do you do that?

  3. Kirsten, if you are using your own photos for a blog, you should be fine. If someone else asserts that the photo was taken by them, you can go back to your original file and show that you indeed took the photo. There have been cases of people taking remarkably similar shots (here’s a case in Britain of two similar shots of an iceberg), but it seems (from what I can tell) that if you’re not copying another’s photo, you’re fine.

  4. It really is an important topic. You mentioned photos that drive viewership to your site, once the photo leaves for another site, Google picks it up as the place to send the search. It has happened to my images many times. That is far more frustrating than the actual theft.

  5. I wonder about photos I take that look just like everybody else’s photo…like some of my generic flower photos look just like others on the net. Ie, a photo of a tomato. How can some prove or disprove the copyright infringement on these? Or visitors to the same garden are all likely to get similar shots. I always use my own photos for blogs, but whzt happens when images are really generic or of famous or common landmarks?

  6. Excellent article Connie!
    When I attended the National Garden Bloggers Convention in Atlanta, I specifically asked a panel of experts there the very same question, “How do I get permission to use photographs for my Social Media postings?” Their reply was to contact the image’s owner and ask. Sometimes, individual owners do not respond, but it is nice to ask. Major Websites often do respond. I use Wikipedia a lot for images. They used to be totally open source in the public domain, but they recently have added a pop-up to >right click/save, that says, “You may need to give credit to the owner of the image”, and a box opens with that information. I always post that information as, “Picture courtesy of…”
    Always credit your sources and resources – It’s the professional and respectful thing to do!

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