We ALL draw inspiration from the work of others. It’s how we learn and, hopefully, how we come up with ideas and styles of our own. However, it is something else entirely if we present another person’s work as our own. You may say, “I don’t do that. I don’t SAY it’s mine. I post stuff on social media because it inspires me (and makes my feed look AH-maaaazing).”
- - - > Insert cringing emoji here.
Here's the deal :: by posting an image without permission AND not giving credit, you're letting the world believe it’s yours. Maybe you’ve never thought about it like that, but it’s true. You're building your reputation—your BRAND—on the hard work of someone else. And that’s not cool.
And, worse yet, you may actually contribute to a missed PAID opportunity for that lovely creator down the road. (Yep. Your seemingly innocent post can actually starve artists.)
Whaaat. Ok. Let’s talk about what we can do to fix this!
When is it ok to share or use an image?
It’s actually never ok to use someone else’s image without their permission. Ever. BUT, most creatives like free advertising, so they’re usually ok with it IF you give them proper credit.
The obvious exception is if you paid to use the image and are not required to give credit, or you found the image on a website that does not require payment OR credit. (A great example of this is unsplash.com. Read about their license here.) Please use common sense and be sure you’re on a legitimate website. Free images should be crisp, clear, and relatively big. If the photos are tiny or look of poor quality, the website owner may have stolen them.
What counts as “proper credit”?
First, let me say that the point of giving credit is to say, clearly: "This is not mine. This is so-and-so's and here is where you can find him/her."
If you’re sharing an image on Instagram (or Facebook), you should do at least 2 things:
- Tag the creator in the description and tell your audience what that person is responsible for:
Examples: Source: @designer / Photo Credit: @photographer / Art by @artist
(Replace my examples with the real IG handle that links to their account.) Double-check that the link works! A misspelled handle is just as bad as not giving credit because people who see the image cannot go directly to the source.)
- Tag the creator wihin the image. (See below.)
By doing this, you’re alerting the creator that you’re using his/her image and giving him/her the OPTION to ask you to take it down. (When people do this with my images, 99% of the time I like the post, thank them in the comments, and check out the feed. It’s a win-win.)
If you’re sharing an image in a blog post or somewhere else online, you should:
- Give credit directly under the image.
Examples: Designed by: Designer / Photo Credit: Photographer
(Replace my examples with the actual name AND make it a hyperlink that goes to their website. Double-check that the link works! A misspelled name or a link with a typo is just as bad as not giving credit at all.)
Side note :: Pinterest is an excellent resource for ideas. The problem is, images get re-pinned SO many times that it's often difficult to find the original source. How many times have you clicked on a DIY project only to never find the actual instructions? It happens to me all the time. Now let's apply that to other platforms where people (like me!) may be using their feed as a portfolio of sorts to inspire others but ALSO woo potential paying clients. If one of my images gets shared, then re-shared, then shared again, my name could easily get lost in the shuffle. It not only hurts my business, but it makes it almost impossible for others, like YOU, to find me.
How can I create a pretty feed without getting into this mess?
- Post your own stuff! Who cares if it isn't perfect?! It will actually be really gratifying to look back at old posts and see how far you've come once you've fine-tuned your skills. (I'm still not 100% happy with the lettering doodle I made for this post, but I had to get on with it so up it went!)
- Subscribe to a royalty-free stock photo site. Perfect for "fluffing your feed" when you're short on time.
- Find inspiration in more unexpected places (i.e., look for inspo off your screen and definitely don’t peruse your competitors’ stuff). This will help you create an authentic feed, even if you don't have a million followers.
- Give proper credit EVERY time - it's as easy as that! Make someone's day by sharing their work with the world.
Is this ACTUALLY a big deal?
YES. A thousand times, yes. It’s not until you wake up one morning, open Instagram, and discover that another BUSINESS is presenting your work in their portfolio that you can really understand how the misuse of images can affect you personally and professionally.
(This is a true story. I found a whole collection of logos I designed in another designer’s feed. No credit. Just one logo after another, and “Hire us!” in the business description. I was furious and left comments on each. Shortly after, the studio made their feed private. No apology, nothing. I was shut out and that was that. Let me tell you: it feels AWFUL.)
Like I said, I don’t mind if people share my work with proper credit…and that’s literally ALL you have to do. Start there. Then respect the creator’s wishes once you notify them that you’re using it.
I'm still not convinced it's worth the effort.
Read lines 3 and 4 below. This is really happening, all around the world. Big companies are using designers' work without their permission. And they're getting away with it! (See an example here.) By taking a minute to credit someone, you're educating someone else and making solid credits the social norm. You might even be introducing someone to their new favorite artist!
- ...Your audience...will not be able to support the original artist & may repost again without credit.
- Brands / Companies who are interested in the work will not be able to contact the original creator for work opportunities.
- Viral circulation of un-credited work increases the likelihood of companies using that work without the creators knowledge & without payment.
- This leads to large legal / emotional costs on the creator to fight for our creative rights.