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Can you use that image or graph you found online?

These days, just about every business has a blog — and you need one. An active, authoritative blog can help you increase your brand recognition, provide valuable content to your clients or customers and help your website come up high in the search engine results when someone Googles a specific question in your field.

Many experts recommend using images on your website and blog to provide visual interest because people often respond more strongly to images and charts than they do words alone. You just have to be careful which images you choose to add to your website or blog so that you don’t accidentally fall afoul of intellectual property laws.

Before you add images of any kind, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The only online images you can freely use are those that are in the public domain. If you aren’t sure about the status of a particular image, don’t use it.
  • The absence of a copyright symbol or watermark doesn’t mean an image is unprotected. Every image belongs to its creator until the creator releases or sells it.
  • You can’t overcome copyright issues by giving credit for the image and “linking back” to the owner’s original site.
  • Not linking back won’t protect you from a lawsuit, since many creative people use computer programs to identify the misuse or misappropriation of their work. The copyright information may even be embedded in the image somewhere, making it easy to find if it is misused.

Don’t take risks with your use of images online. At best, you could get a take-down notice. At worse, you could end up in litigation over the unfair use of someone’s intellectual property.