February 13, 2019

Can you legally use that photo or song?

Marcus dePaula, co-founder of Mixtus Media and producer of this podcast, is an expert in online content creation. In this episode he breaks down creative commons licensing, explains the ethical (and credibility) issues in grabbing images from Google for fundraising appeals or marketing communications, and shares resources for great, free photography and music every organization can use.


Sarah Durham: Welcome to the Smart Communications podcast. I am Sarah Durham, the CEO of Big Duck and I’m here today with, Marcus dePaula. Hi, Marcus.

Marcus dePaula: Hi, Sarah.

Sarah Durham: For those of you who don’t know Marcus, he produces our podcast, but he’s also a content creator par excellence. He has a business that works with all kinds of different businesses and organizations on content creation. Tell us a little bit about what you do, Marcus.

Marcus dePaula: Yeah, so my job is creating websites and all kinds of different content from image posts to video to now podcasts for online communications. My wife and I have a content marketing and communication business called Mixtus Media where we work primarily with authors, but I’ve always had a passion for nonprofits and have had the opportunity to help quite a few organizations with their websites, social media and email marketing campaigns. And over the past year, I’ve been fortunate to be able to use my past experiences as a touring audio engineer and pair that with my website and online marketing experience to help organizations like Big Duck produce podcasts.

Sarah Durham: And one of the things that Marcus and I have collaborated on, for the podcast, but we’ve also been talking about offline is rights and licensing around music and around artwork like photography. So where this comes up is when you are trying to make a post about something or you’re looking for stock photography for your e-newsletter or you’re looking for background music for something like, in our case, the intro to this podcast and you’re trying to figure out how you’re gonna make it great. And what a lot of people don’t know is that the musician or the photographer or the artist who made that work of art that you’re thinking would be great for your thing, owns the rights to that work. You can’t just snag it and use it the way you want.

So there’s this really handy organization, I believe, called, Creative Commons. And we thought today, we would talk a little bit about, Creative Commons and their licensing system and how that works. So, Marcus, what is Creative Commons? Tell us about it.

Marcus dePaula: is a place where creatives can get free, easy to use copyright licenses for their work. They made a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative works. So if you’re a photographer or a filmmaker or a musician, you can publish your media online using a Creative Commons license. So anyone can use it for free as long as they follow that license. There’s different licenses that you can go with, but the most common one is attribution license, to where if you use an image or a song or they also have video, there’s education materials, there’s research content, just attributing it to the person who created that. And Creative Commons licenses are built into a lot of online, media, hosting services like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Unsplash and the Free Music Archive. So if you’re an organization working on a social media campaign, you can go those websites to find free images to use for memes or music and video clips to use in your posts.

And it’s just like any news piece, if you reference a resource of information in a news article, you wanna give them credit for it because you’re not the one that found that information, somebody else did. And with photography, you didn’t take the picture, somebody else did, so it’s just a good, human thing to do to give credit where credit’s due.

Sarah Durham: Yeah and if you’ve listened to the intro to our podcast, you’ve heard this music in the background, which is by an artist called, I think it’s, Broke for Free.

Marcus dePaula: Yes.

Sarah Durham: Is that right?

Marcus dePaula: Yes.

Sarah Durham: So, Broke for Free, basically said that you can sample a piece of their music with attributions. So we linked to them in the show notes and that’s how we give them credit for the rights to use the sample. So Creative Commons facilitates that, that this artist who wants their work to be heard, put it out there and said, “Hey, you can use this, but you gotta give us credit. You gotta attribute to us.”

Marcus dePaula: Absolutely. Something that I see way too often is people just doing a Google search and then grabbing whatever images they find to use and then inserting them into their blog post, and then using them on social media to promote that blog post for their business or organization. A lot of times they’re copyrighted images from stock image websites, Getty Images or Associated Press. News sites pay thousands of dollars to use photojournalist images and a lot of times, those are the images that I’m seeing people grab and use. And while there’s not a blog photo police out there busting websites that are using images without permission, there is an ethical issue that could reflect poorly on your organization if you use images this way without permission. Especially if you knowingly use photos without permission. And even if you’re using them out of ignorance, not realizing that you need to get permission, that’s not really a good look either. So be aware of the licensing on the media you use, that you didn’t create yourself and make sure to give credit and follow all the use license requirements.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, it’s the right thing to do, to give credit where credit is due. I’m not a lawyer, but I also think that there are some clear intellectual property laws around this and it’s quite likely if you use an image without attribution and without permission that you’ll be asked, at a minimum, to stop using it and take it down, but you could, theoretically, incur some more extreme costs. But, let’s go back to the Creative Commons thing because I think what a lot of people don’t know is that there are a number of websites that have great imagery that you can use, I think, often Creative Commons comes up the most with that. We use one called, Pexels, here.

There are a number of them, I think we can link to a couple of them in the show notes, but often times what happens is you search for a term or you search for something that is related to the post or what you’re trying to produce and then, images come up and when you click on the image, usually depending on what the company is, there’s some place where there is a small line of type that says, “Creative Commons.” And when you click on that, what it does is it tells you the type of licensing permission that the author of that original work has granted. So, as you said, it might be an attribution, you can share the work with attribution. In some cases, artists are restrictive about how you can or cannot alter their works. Some artists allow you to really take it and make it their own, other artists are very strict about you can’t edit this work. So I think really the point here is, just to kinda poke around and really think about who created this work and how do they intend for it to be shared and used before you use it.

Marcus dePaula: Absolutely. And the other license I’ll also pay attention to is whether it has the non-commercial use icon with it because if they don’t want you using it for commercial use, that means you can’t use it for fundraising campaign. They don’t want you soliciting any kind of funds, whether it’s for selling a product as just a regular business. But even for raising funds of any kind, I will avoid using the ones that have the non-commercial license attached to them.

Sarah Durham: So maybe you could use it on a post about a program or something that’s not an ask, but if you’re soliciting funds, you gotta be careful about the commercial usage?

Marcus dePaula: Exactly.

Sarah Durham: And how about music? I’m more familiar with where you can find images in Creative Commons, but if somebody in a nonprofit is looking for music, for instance, to go behind a video that they’re making or a podcast or some other audio, where would you look for music that has Creative Commons licensing?

Marcus dePaula: Yeah. I usually start at, That’s where we got the intro for this podcast. Music is tough and it’s somewhat with images too, but especially with music, there’s a lot of, honestly, just bad stuff on some of the free content sites. But, what I like about Free Music Archive, they’re one of the oldest ones, so they’ve just got a ton of content. But they also have a pretty good search engine and they also, let you filter things based on the popularity of how many times they’ve been downloaded and the reviews that people give them. So that kind of weeds out some of the bad stuff.

Sarah Durham: And you did something smart with us, which I would recommend. Which was when we were trying to figure out the music for this, you really encouraged me to think about what I was doing for and for me, the essence of that was, Big Duck’s brand personality. We talk a lot about brand personality as part of our brand strategy.

Marcus dePaula: Yes.

Sarah Durham: And then you said to me, “Put together a bunch of songs that have the right personality.” So I gave you a list of songs and then you and I together really did some digging around to find things that feel right because with the sound stuff, it’s really easy to kinda go down this rabbit hole of, “Oh, this sounds cool. This sounds cool.” But, you really wanna start by being very clear, I guess, what the destination is, right?

Marcus dePaula: Yeah. Absolutely. And especially for a podcast intro, that opening sound becomes a part of the identity of the show and so that personality has to jive with your overall brand personality, definitely.

Sarah Durham: The other side of this Creative Commons piece is, if you’re listening to this podcast and you’ve got a side hustle where you wanna be a photographer or you’re staying up all night painting or maybe composing your own music or something like that. So if you’re a creative person who wants to get your stuff online, do you know how that works? How would I, as an artist, determine how I’d use Creative Commons?

Marcus dePaula: Yeah. So all of these websites have very clear places where you can sign up to submit your content. The good ones, obviously, make it very easy to do that because the easier the process is for them to get stuff, the easier it is for them to get more people on their website. Pay attention to the terms that they have. You can also do that on sites that say they’re royalty free that charge a subscription fee like iStock photo. You can sign up and submit your photos there. Musicbed is another paid one that I actually have some friends that are musicians that submit stuff there. But, I’ve actually submitted my own photos to, which is the one we use the most for our images. And I have got a couple pictures up on there that have been downloaded, I think, a few hundred thousand times, which is kinda cool. Just giving back to the community a little bit.

Sarah Durham: Great. So we’ll look for your photos.

Marcus dePaula: Yeah.

Sarah Durham: Great. Well, Marcus, thanks for joining me today.

Marcus dePaula: Thank you so much for having me on.