Copyright and Licensing explained - Ignorance is no longer bliss!

Many people are shocked to hear that it is illegal for them to be using the image they copied off Google or Instagram. But, there it is. This is such a common practice nowadays, that most people get away with it… OK, some image are safe to use, but MOST are not.

So, how do you know and what can happen if you are caught out?

*This is not legal advice and I have no qualification in these matters. I am writing this post as an educational piece to inform you of your rights and obligations.

If you are illegally using a font or image on your blog or online store (even if you are NOT aware that it is illegal!), you can get into very serious trouble, like:

  • having to pay civil damages
  • taking down of your website
  • payment of all your profits to the legal owner
  • be ordered to destroy your property using the fonts and resources in question name just a few.

Read one scary story here.

Assume everything is protected and do not use anything without permission.

And here’s the thing, you WILL get caught out eventually. There is software available that enables copyright owners to scour the internet and identify unlicensed imagery and act to protect their rights.

Here are three:

Yikes! So why is it illegal in the first place?

Because of copyright. By default, anyone that creates any kind of original work owns the copyright on that. Automatically. This means they do not even need to register it anywhere or write ©Copyright on it (this may differ in certain countries). Once it’s created, that’s it. This applies to ANY original work, including fonts.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: 

“Copyright is a legal rightcreated by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rightsfor its use and distribution.

Copyright is a form of intellectual property, applicable to certain forms of creative work. These rights frequently include reproduction, control over derivative works, distribution, public performance, and "moral rights" such as attribution.

The good news is, that copyright owners can give others permission to use their work in the form of licenses.

But I already wrote that the photo was taken by “x” person. Sorry – it is STILL illegal, because you are still using it without PERMISSION.

Recommended Reading

  • Please read this fantastic postby Allyn Lewis, answering a lot of questions about copyright.
  • Missy Meyer also wrote a great postabout copyright (mostly aimed at fonts).
  • What about using a quote from a person, book or song?
    Jane Friedman explains this the best in her post about permissions(aimed at authors, but applicable to blogs).

Anything published before 1923 is in the Public Domain.


When someone allows you to use their work, they’re giving you a license to use it.

The first rule of thumb is: if you don’t know what the license is, don’t use it!

Let’s look at some of the different types of licenses out there:

  • Creative Commons (CC) License
    Creative Commons allows you to use the image for free, but only if you give attribution to the owner of that image. Here are some instructions on providing the correct attribution. Read more on Wikipedia.
  • CC0 - Creative Commons Zero License
    Feel free to use these, YAY!
    Creative Commons Zero means you can copy, modify, distribute and use the resource for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission or providing attribution.
  • Free for Personal use
    You can only use these if you are NOT using them commercially. Making an invitation for your friend or a meme for your social media is perfectly fine. If you want to use them for your business or anything that you will be making money on, you need a commercial license.
  • (Free) For Commercial use
    You can use these photos however you’d like, personally or commercially (they can be free or paid for).
    Commercial use Stock Imagesfall into two main types, royalty-free and rights-managed. Royalty Freemeans that after the initial commercial use license is secured, additional uses can be made without payment. You can use the image in virtually any application, as long as you like, in as many different projects as you like, as long as you comply with the terms of the license agreement.
    Rights-managedimages mean your right to use the image is restricted, with limitations placed on things such as duration of use, number of uses, geographic region, etc., as established by your license agreement.

Commercial Use summed-up in 5 points:

  • You are not allowed to use ANY images (photos, illustrations, logos etc.) without permission/license. Not from Flickr, Instagram, Google search or any other source (online or printed!).
  • For commercial purposes, you cannot use quotes by any person, movie, book or poem without permission.
  • Even fonts require permission/license to use commercially.
  • You must always seek permission to use lyrics - contact the music publisher
  • You do not need permission to link directly to a website.

I know, this is a mouthful! Just one more important license to be aware of:

Webfont license

You’ve already bought a font, got the commercial license, made some beautiful artwork and now also want to use it on your website… Sorry! For use on a website (even a blog), fonts must have a Web-font licence! (I’m not talking about uploading images that uses the font, I mean using the font for headings or in the actual body text on your site)

Check the Web site you are downloading or purchasing the font from, or the documentation that comes with the font. Design Bundles has a great post about using webfonts!

For a more detailed explanation on the webfont license, please read

Much more can be said about both copyright and licenses and I have by no means written a comprehensive post. I do hope though, that it will give you a clearer picture of what you are allowed and not allowed to use.

Forget all the legal stuff for a moment. Stealing someone else’s work is a morally low thing to do.

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