What photos do you use for your website, newsletters and social media posts? I mean, where did you find them? Can you use those pictures? Are you sure you can use them?

And I mean – are you REALLY SURE?

I am asking because in the past few years I have seen that we’re not always right when we think we can use something.

Photos are copyrighted items. So in principle you need a license to use photos that you did not take yourself.

Often, that means you need to pay. (Being a photographer is a profession, and photographers need to eat, too).

Use photos under a Creative Commons License

There are platforms like Unsplash where you can find photos that you can use for free, under certain conditions. Very often you’ll see they will come with a Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/) license (codes starting with CC).

If you use photos that are free to use under a Creative Commons license, please make sure you understand the conditions and get the attributions right. Attributions are part of the license. And if you don’t apply them correctly, you are not using the photo in line with the license. In which case the author of the photo can charge you for using it.

Believe me, you do not want that to happen, because it can get very pricey.

Mistakes in using photos under a license

I know that because I have seen a few nonprofits who made mistakes with this. It caused a lot of stress. And it was costly: the time spent looking into it, fixing it, taking down all photos and looking at an empty website, communicating with lawyers and such. And despite all that, in the end they had to pay around 400 euro per photo they had used incorrectly. Money they could have used in much better ways.

So do yourself a favour and check today if you are allowed to use the photos you are using. And if you can use them the way you are using them. Check the attributions. (Make a quick instruction for how to attribute photos and videos so that everyone on your team knows how to do this). Check the licenses. Make screenshots, save links, make a pdf print of the page, etc. with the date and all relevant details clearly visible. And store all that in a neat folder in case you may need to reference it later.

Make sure you check how you use photos

All the nonprofits that faced problems with this thought that “the communication person” had it all under control and that everything was fine. Forgetting that communication people may be better at creative writing than at reading small print of licenses. It does not mean it cannot be their responsibility – but it does mean it’s good to check now and then, also because rules may change. And after all, whoever is responsible, it is a waste of your precious money to pay for something you could have had for free if you had done it right.

(Just to be clear – I have nothing against photographers being paid for their work! But as nonprofits we don’t always have the budget available for that and especially in the beginning it can be fine to use free photos – as long as you do it correctly).

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into my nonprofit support community and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free nonprofit support community

You can join my free nonprofit support community on the Heartbeat platform here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.

You can visit the community via a browser or via an app. Here is the link to download the Heartbeat chat app in the Google Play store.

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