SPA MANAGEMENT: Web Image Legality

What you need to know before re-posting pictures

Say you and your team meet for your daily afternoon powwow, and spontaneously decide to offer a last-minute pumpkin scrub special for anyone who Likes you on Facebook in the next hour. Quick, you’ll need an image of a big orange pumpkin to post on your page! So, you Google "pretty pumpkins" and up pops the perfect image to help sell your treatment. Instantly, you grab the image from the web and re-post. Piece of cake, right?

Not so fast. That would be the quick and easy route, but the unfortunate reality is that unless you get permission first, posting imagery you find online is simply not legal. Sure, plenty of people do it, but if those pilfered images’ owners and photographers find out, your spa could end up facing some hefty fines, and possibly even end up in copyright court!

Questions surrounding the legality of web photos are relatively new phenomena. And the widespread use of Pinterest has gotten many business owners (and consumers) accustomed to simply “re-pinning” whenever a web image strikes their fancy. This is already resulting in some tricky legal situations.

Ruby Gu, creative director of Oasis Day Spa, with multiple locations in New York, explains: "Pinterest has come under fire about the copyright protection of images being pinned, and the company has changed its policies several times in order to protect the interests of the original image owners.” While it’s still okay to re-pin images to your own pinboard, or even share them through your other social media channels, remember that it is illegal to post images pulled from Pinterest onto your own website, menus, ads, etc., without the consent of the original image owner. This stands even if you state that the picture came from Pinterest. “If you absolutely must use an image, try to locate the source,” Gu advises. “If you can get permission from the photographer, then by all means go ahead."

Tracking down original photographers can be a shot in the dark, but the good news is, there are plenty of cheap options to obtain instant imagery for your website and social media channels. "With the quality of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 camera, it is hard to justify 'stealing' images on the Internet,” says Jamie Ginsberg, social media strategist at Cleveland Groove. “With a little bit of time and care, every spa can create amazing images for Facebook and blog content.”

Don’t trust your own photography skills? "We’ve used iStockPhoto.com and StockFresh.com,” shares Gu. “Both are great sources of affordable stock photography that start at $1 per image.” You may also want to check out websites such as RGBStock.com, as it has public domain images that are free to use on your websites, brochures, advertisements, etc. However, the selection is limited. “You can also obtain free-to-use images via photo-sharing sites for Creative Commons-licensed images,” adds Gu. “For example, Flickr’s advanced search allows users to post according to a Creative Commons licensing agreement, wherein the image owner allows commercial use of the images under certain conditions—often, simply crediting the photographer.”

There are legal issues to keep in mind when it comes to your spa’s own photos, too. "It's generally stipulated in the photographer’s contract to credit him/her when the images are in use,” says Gu. “If it’s not in the paperwork (or if there is none), definitely ask the photographer about crediting. Whatever the answer, get it in writing so you can refer to it if there are any problems in the future.”

Here are some other important considerations to discuss prior to a photo shoot: "If you hire a photographer, make sure you ensure unlimited and unrestricted use of the pictures,” says Ginsberg. “Credit is optional in that situation. Also, if you’ll be sharing photos on Facebook, ask your photographer to include a small, tasteful watermark advertising your spa's website or Facebook link. This way, when the pictures are shared, your spa is promoted. Some photographers may request a link to their own Facebook page whenever you post their photos.”

In any case, the next time inspiration strikes for that pumpkin-based Facebook offering, heading to the pumpkin patch with your iPhone might just be the fastest, most affordable and legal way to get a quick pic and sell it.

Carrie Borzillo is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and author.