Credit Where Credit is Due

Here’s a little sunshine to brighten your day! That lovely photo was taken by my son Chas. I am a cynic, so I took the lovely tropical beach cabana scene below.

As a writer, I have found that having a great image can make or break my article. Many magazines will jump to accept my submissions if I say “And, I can provide images”. I have read that articles which include images are FOUR TIMES more likely to be accepted by editors. I can see why: As a newsletter editor, I spent hours looking for suitable images, asking their owners for permission, not getting it, looking again, editing… A newsletter or magazine without pictures is more likely to go unread. And getting just the right shot can be very expensive, with talented photographers earning as much as writers and more. As a struggling just-starting-out writer, I am not yet paid enough to purchase images!

There are thousands of images on the internet with a ‘Creative Commons’ License, which means that the image owner (usually the person who took the photograph) holds the copyright but doesn’t mind if their image is used under certain conditions. Sometimes the conditions of use are published, as in Flickr’s Advanced Search options. You can search Flickr for images to use for free, but you must not use them for any commercial purpose. So a school project or charity leaflet, yes. Magazine article, no.

And even when the conditions of use seem free and open, it is important to get permission for use and let the copyright owner know that you appreciate their talent. If permission cannot be gained in time, it is best not to use the image at all. And ALWAYS give credit, either on the image itself, as a footnote or within the text. If the image will be sent as a file for publishing, state in the file name that it must be credited to so-and-so. And let your editor know as well, in writing, that the image is not your own and must be credited.

As a writer, I am madder than an old goat when someone uses my ideas or copies phrases word for word. It happens, no matter what you do, and can be accidental. I have often read inspiring pieces which lead me to write something along the same lines, file it away, and then find it later, only to notice that it bears a certain similarity to something I’ve read before. It’s okay to take notes from an article that inspires, but you should never cut-and-paste. You don’t know what might happen later on, when you are in a hurry to produce 300 words on “quick suppers for toddlers”.

Recently, I asked a photographer friend, Stephen Broadbridge, if I could use his image, and he very generously said yes. Due to a breakdown in communications somewhere, when my article was printed there was no photographer credit: despite the image being so perfect, and being the main photo for the story, and Stephen being a professional photographer who makes his living from his extraordinary talent. Stephen was so mad! I was devastated, since Stephen and I have been friends for many years and I would hate to think that we could fall out over work. Luckily, we are still friends… but imagine if I had downloaded that image from the internet, used it in a magazine without crediting him, and Stephen had seen it under my byline. He would have been right to sue me, just to set an example to other careless writers. It is so easy to use images and quotes from the internet with the click of your mouse, but that doesn’t make it right or legal.

Morally, it is wrong to copy someone’s work or use it without express permission. Legally, it is also wrong and you can get yourself into hot water. And as my experience with Stephen shows, you can never be too careful.

These days, writers have to master many skills. It’s not just about writing when we are inspired! We need computer skills and a basic knowledge of code, we need bookkeeping skills for the tax man, and it really helps if we can take photos of our own. Or, like me, hand the camera to the kids! Digital photography means that they can take a zillion pictures, and one or two are bound to be usable. The thrill of seeing their photos in print and on the internet, credited to their own name, keeps them snapping away and poring over photography magazines for hours. I pay them a pittance, give them tutorials, and squeak, “EEK! Don’t drop the camera into the pool!!!!”


Images: Chas Sheppard, Nan Sheppard

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