Pictures, pictures and more pictures

In my last post, I described the art of blogging and how it benefits me. The main conclusion I drew was that people love pictures, and that if you want to get people to your website, it must be figure-heavy. This second blog post describes how to avoide copyright conundrums and how to illustrate your blog with lots of beautiful pictures without falling foul of copyright laws.

Pictures are great, but there’s a problem: how do you get access to all these great pictures without stealing them from someone else? Fortunately, there are a few solutions to this issue that I will go into in more detail in this blog post. The following all assumes that you are a not-for-profit blogger with an educational website.

1.   Make your own images

The best way to use images is to take them or make them yourself. For Earth Scientists, this means taking your camera out with you on fieldwork and sharing your photographs online. You don’t need to be a fantastic photographer to do this, particularly if you’re going somewhere fascinating, beautiful or unusual. It is, however, worth investing in a relatively good camera – but a simple point-and-shoot is probably fine! You can also take photographs of your lab, you at conferences, and all sorts of things.

Perhaps you’re a modeller making sexy models of the world. Draw them up into nice figures for your website, or even better, post movies! Or perhaps you’re a data junkie with reams of numbers. Put them into a nice figure and put that on your website instead.

There are many free GIS datasets that anyone with a GIS skill can use. Attribute the data correctly and you can make your own figure and post it on your website or blog.

If you’ve published the photograph or figure already, check with your publisher’s agreement. Most publishers say that you retain copyright and can post the image on your own website, provided you give the reference of the publication and a link to it. Failing that, if you’re not allowed, change the figure so it’s different enough that you can use it online. Again, check the rules to make sure you’re not infringing copyright. You may need to request a permission to use it, which is often free if you’re the author.

If you’re the author of an Elsevier article, you have a range of rights, including the right to post preprint versions of your article on a website. To post a final published version of a figure on your website, you should create a Rightslink account and obtain permission, although use of the figure will be free.

2.   Ask for permission from the author

If you didn’t make the image, don’t just take it from a website or journal article without requesting permission. Contact the author, and if they have copyright, they may give you the figure to use, often stating that you must attribute it to them. They should check that they have permission from the publisher to do this before giving you the figure. They may need to create a RightsLink account to do this.

Most people will be pleased that you want to blog about their work, and will gladly give you that figure or a similar one.

3.   Check on Wikimedia Commons

There are many great pictures on Wikimedia Commons that can be freely used as long as you attribute them correctly. Many pictures from the Global Warming Art Project are available on Wikimedia Commons, but again, you must cite your source.

If there’s anything people like more than pictures, it’s films. YouTube videos are usually available on a Creative Commons licence, which means that you can share them freely by putting a link to them on your website. The video will then play on your website, through YouTube. You should again cite your source, if you can. Share good practise and make your own films available on YouTube too.

Many of NASA’s images are published under a Creative Commons license and are available on Wikimedia Commons. NASA images are generally not subject to copyright, unless otherwise stated, provided that it is for educational purposes. You may not use the NASA logo.

4.   Open Access Publications

A growing number of papers are published as open access. They often will have a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which means that you can use the material (including figures) as long as you cite your source and provide a link back to the original article. The Cryosphere and other open-access EGU journals have a Creative Commons License.

5.    Request permission from the publisher

If you can’t make a picture, don’t know the author or have difficulty getting a nice figure, you can request permission from the publisher. Some publishers, including the MacMillan Publishing Group (Nature) and PNAS, will provide a licence to use images on educational, not-for-profit websites for free. Science magazine and journals published by Elsevier/ScienceDirect generally have a small charge. You will need to ‘request permissions’ and possibly also create a Rightslink account, stating what figure you want to use, where and why. In many cases, such as for the MacMillan Publishing Group, a licence may be immediate and free, but you must register and formally request permission. Wiley Online generally needs to be emailed to ask for permission, which they consider on a case-by-case basis.

The permission will be granted along with certain caveats; these are usually that you must give the full reference and a link to the original article, and a statement, usually along the lines of, “Reproduced with permission by… copyright [year]”.

Some general rules:

  • Don’t change the figure.
  • Don’t use logos, these are generally subject to copyright.
  • Don’t use the image to suggest endorsement of your website.
  • Do link back to the original image and cite your source fully.
  • Ideally provide the original caption for the figure, and take care not to misrepresent it.
  • These suggestions assumes you have a non-profit, educational website and don’t apply to commercial websites.

Further reading

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