Sometimes it is hard to do the right thing, but as disciples of Jesus, we must try.
As I’ve been working on getting lots of material ready for launching the Bibleverse collection of related ministries some guidelines have come to my attention about the “free images” on sites such as Canva, PicMonkey, and Snappa, where you can use the images they have, plus the free images sites themselves such as Unsplash, Pixabay, Pexels, and that many of us (me included) use to create social media and templates. What follows does not apply to sites in which you pay for a membership. But since many churches and organizations make use of free sites, it's important you understand the changing rules.
The take-away conclusions from my research and limitations to the use of "free" images
I won’t bore you with listing the number of articles I’ve read recently, but following is the distilled research and application takeaways both for how it applies to you as a church and how you use things and for the Effective Church Communications ministry.
Overall, as a church creating communications that you freely give to church members and that are primarily shared within your church, you have much more latitude than I do in Effective Church Communications. What I create falls into the “commercial” area and the usage guidelines for that are much more limiting than your non-commercial uses in the church. I have changed many things I charged for in the past to free when I wasn't sure exactly of what drifted into the commercial area.
I'll summarize my bottom-line recommendations shortly and then give you details from various sites.
However, and this is a big, However—if your church does something as seemingly innocent as selling a t-shirt for camp, or a cookbook as a fundraiser or selling anything else, you are now in the commercial category also. Sadly, there are some professional groups (Getty Images has a reputation in this area) that love to go after churches if they feel their image rights are violated. For these reasons, in addition to keeping you informed as to why I do what I do for you, you need to be as careful as possible in your communication creations and in the media you use for them.
Don't beat up on yourself if you find you've violated some of the rules/guidelines that follow. Many sites/group have recently updated their Terms of Service. Maybe it has something to do with the COVID crisis, maybe some companies are worried about losing income with many businesses struggling now, I have no idea why, but this has suddenly become a big deal for a number of sites. I can't go into all of them, but I will cover three of the sites where this has the biggest impact on what I'm doing in preparing courses for the online school, Canva, PicMonkey, and Snappa. I have to redo all the courses I had ready to go on them. I'm having to take down templates and other content (this will take time.....).
Yes, this is all a major pain in the neck and with all the other challenges we have facing us now, I know this isn’t the most positive thing you may want to read about. But the Lord calls us to high standards no matter how inconvenient it might be to obey, so here goes with what I’ve learned and am in the process of applying. First, I'll give you my conclusions, The Bottom Line, if you don't have the time or desire to read the whole article. I understand I hated writing it.
The Bottom Line
- Double-check all the sites from which you get images. Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay, and a number of others (I'll be redoing my list) are safe and legal for both church and commercial usage.
- EXCEPT--and this goes for ALL sites:
- Don't use recognizable FACES of people.
- Don't use recognizable famous landmarks or brands.
- Why these images are included on the sites, I don't know. In theory, you are supposed to get a model release. Just because it isn't practical, doesn't make it legal.
- For PicMonkey--Don't use any of their images--bring in your own. I've had a lengthy dialog with the company and even they admit Getty images (where they get their "free images") are crazy restrictive.
- For Canva--for totally in church stuff you are probably (with the two exceptions above) OK. For any commercial work, including all I do--you can't use their images OR TEMPLATES (so no use of one if you want to sell t-shirts). I still think it's one of the greatest programs to CREATE Images, and I'm preparing some new videos on it, but you have to obey their limitations. With Canva, to be safe, first select Pexels or Pixabay for image searches as these sites are copyright free.
- Snappa.com is a wonderful program. They are far more limited in what they can do, in templates, etc., but they have the most clear image usage statement making it possible to use their images (again, keeping in mind the two limitations) without fear.
Practical terms for you: I totally redid the images I shared on Prayer and Spiritual Endurance. The links to the new downloads are here. Click on the link to go to the collection of free, downloadable social media images:
On Prayer: https://wp.me/pDky9-8UX
On Spiritual Endurance: https://wp.me/pDky9-8Vw
Canva—one of the biggest challenges
Canva is an incredible program that is a great alternative to other graphic image creation tools. Used as a creation tool, but to use the raw materials they provide is where the challenges come in, here are some I’ve recently discovered.
- The images that are on the site.
As they state in their very confusing and constantly changing terms of service, there are many limitations of how you can use their images. First of all, they are not clear where the images come from, but they tell you that you need to understand the Terms of Service for the individual images.
Also, you have limits on how many designs you can use any image in, the total number of pixels that the designs can add up to equal (REALLY? This seems crazy, who is counting?), the number of times a final item will be reproduced (and who will keep track when things are distributed on the web or downloaded for free?).
If you are only going to use the images for blog or social media uses for your church, you may be OK. There are some additional rules in a little bit on that.
However, for Effective Church Communications, the recent addition of the number of pixels and some of the other limitations make it so that I cannot use their images (I only go to the Pexels and Pixabay section now) in good conscience any longer. It's still a great image-creation program and I'm working on some new videos to illustrate that.
- Their templates
This is what they say about their Templates:
CANVA STUFF: Except for use within apps on the Service you may not:
- Use the Pro Stock Media in design template applications intended for resale, whether online or not, including, without limitation, website templates, Flash templates, business card templates, electronic greeting card templates, and brochure design templates (except for templates created for use on Canva);
(Available under EUL).
Changing the content of a Canva template without completely changing the design is not creating your own work and is not allowed.
If I am reading that correctly basically you can’t use the Templates or their images if you are going to be creating anything resembling a Template that will be sold—so that means, none of their images or anything resembling their Templates can be created and used by Effective Church Communications.
Creating something for a one-time, in-house use at your church may be different, but be careful.
Further documentation on Canva:
Link to a very informative article about the massive rights confusion on their site: https://creativegeniuslaw.com/what-do-i-need-to-know-about-canva/
Why bother with Canva at all?
I still consider a tremendously useful tool to CREATE social media and print communications.
I will be creating video lessons on how that works. You just need to bring your media and ideas to the program.
Notes about the usage of images on PicMonkey
I love PicMonkey for how you can modify images—your images and the inventive text and image creations you can add. More videos coming on these processes.
You may not use Getty Content as follows:
- in an editorial manner (i.e., relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest);
- for pornographic, defamatory or other unlawful purposes
- in electronic templates used to create electronic or printed products;
- in physical or digital retail products, such as e-cards, calendars, posters, or screensavers;
- for the purpose of enabling file-sharing of the image file; or
- in logos, trademarks, services marks or any other branding or identifiers;
- featuring an individual(s) in connection with a sensitive, unflattering or controversial subject without including a statement that the image is used for illustrative purposes only and the individual(s) is a model;
- in an electronic template intended to be reproduced by third parties on electronic or printed products;
if the Getty Content contains a professional or collegiate sports image; or
in an audiovisual production;
Obviously use of any of these images for Template creation for Effective Church Communications is out of the question, but for churches, the last two are problematic.
Apparently you can’t use “professional or collegiate sports image” even though they have numerous images that are exactly that and if you wanted to use one that illustrated “running the race” or some other Christian lesson using an athletic analogy you couldn’t. Also if you can’t use them in an audiovisual production (no reason why just can’t).
Wikipedia defines audiovisual in this way: “Audiovisual (AV) is electronic media possessing both a sound and a visual component, such as slide-tape presentations, films, television programs, corporate conferencing, church services and live theater productions.” PowerPoint of any sort would most likely also be included.
I've had a long and very helpful correspondence with a representative at PicMonkey. Very nice people and I'm still trying to get clarification on issues other than the images ( a new article when I do), but basically, for the images, they agreed they were very restrictive (not sure they even understood what they agreed to.)
The conclusion is that I won’t be using any images from PicMonkey in the future and I'd be very careful if you find one you like. To be safe, I'd only bring my images (from sites like www.pixabay.com and similar ones on the site).
A site with a clear and generous policy of use
Snappa.com has one of the clearest, very simple and generous statements of use. It follows.
I do like this site quite a lot, have done a number of videos of it, and will repost them (since the images are all OK to use).
Here is what they say:
Are your photos & graphics licensed for commercial use?
They sure are! All photos and graphics included in Snappa are 100% royalty-free. They can be used for both commercial and non-commercial purposes and you are not required to provide attribution.
That being said, the following restrictions do apply:
Identifiable people may not appear in a bad light or in a way that is offensive.
You cannot sell unaltered copies of a photo, e.g. don't sell it as a stock photo, poster, print or on a physical product without adding any value.
You cannot imply endorsement of your product by people or brands on the image.
You cannot redistribute or sell the photos on other stock photo or wallpaper platforms.
Now, why can't other sites be like that if they offer images? Who knows, but we must obey what we can.
The biggest problem is cost. If you are already paying for one or two other sites, this can be a problem.
ALL other sites—be careful of what you use
I have only recommended on the Effective Church Communications site, online image collections that are totally copyright free and OK to use for commercial usage. So far, so good.
However, there have been a number of recent articles that also caution the use of two areas for even these copy-right free, commercial usage OK images. Here are the now questionable areas:
- Images of people you can recognize, e.g. see their face clearly
The rationale behind this is that if you do not have a model release from the person in the photograph, you cannot use the image of someone whose face you can see clearly. As one person said, what if you saw your picture used in a way you didn’t give permission for someone to use, wouldn’t you be upset?
Well, that has happened to me as it does to anyone who publishes anything freely. And no, it doesn’t bother me as that comes with the territory. But I understand the concern, especially as I thought about how I use images that promote a Christian message and if someone was not a believer in Jesus, that could be a concern.
- Places that are landmarks or trademarked items.
For some reason, the Eiffel Tower is the example used frequently of something you cannot use without specific permission. Nor can you use things like Lego images or Disney images, etc.
Why these pictures are allowed on sites that say everything is Ok to use is a question without an answer that I could find. But there are many warnings about this being posted currently.
Here is how one site (www.reshot.com--the mostly free site of images and good to check out) sums this up and this is what many of them now say:
This means that Photos on the Service come with a very, very broad copyright license under the Reshot License. This is why we say that they are “Free to Use.” Note that the Reshot License does not include the right to use:
- Trademarks, logos, or brands that appear in Photos
- People’s images if they are recognizable in the Photos
If you download photos with any of these depicted in them, you may need the permission of the brand owner or individual depending on how you use the Photo. Please see our FAQs for more information and, if you still aren’t sure, you should probably talk to a lawyer who knows about these things. From www.reshot.com.
You may ask why then do they post these pictures if they really aren’t free and if you are supposed to track down the person to use that image (and no way to do that in most cases). Especially when the site has LOTS of people images. I can’t answer that question.
What to do to be creative and yet follow the rules, some suggestions:
Perspective on any situation always helps. I remember the days when any image was difficult to get and expensive. So, even with these challenges and restrictions, we still have thousands of free, useful images, so for any site (not using Canva and PicMonkey ones) what can we do to take advantage of the many free images, but respect the growing concerns? Here are some suggestions:
- With people, you can use a back view of them or the many other poses where a face is not recognizable.
- You can shoot your own photos if you must have people facing the camera and get a model release form signed. The cameras in phones today are amazing.
- Simply don’t use trademarked images or questionable landmarks—there are plenty more options in that category. Generic outdoor or city images are available in the thousands.
- As I’ve done in many of my instructional videos, you can use the little cartoon people if you feel a person-like image is needed.
- A site that charges for images like presentermedia.com has cartoons and animated characters that work well for many instructional settings. There are many sites that charge for images, but even those may have restrictive rights, so read their terms carefully.
- Never just grab images off the web; always read the Terms of Service carefully. Look for updated Terms; many have gotten more detailed than they were in the past.
- Pray for wisdom and discernment.
What Effective Church Communications (ECC) must do
It is much more complicated for an organization like ECC that has a world-wide distribution of materials and especially for my upcoming membership materials that I will be charging for.
I am very thankful that the Lord graciously allowed me to find out about this tightening of guidelines before launching the Membership. I have always tried hard to do things decently and in order and in a way that honors the Lord and I want to continue to do that.
Having said that, it’s a bit of a challenge to do that now, though I’m committed to it. Here is what I’m in the process of doing to comply:
- In order to not use either the templates or the images from Canva—even though I modified the few I used quite a bit—I’ve had to totally redo the recent sets of images on Prayer and on Spiritual Endurance. I’m reposting them on this website for you. I’ll be going back, evaluating others and modifying or taking down ones that have questionable use.
- In redoing the sets, I used only images that I knew were copyright-free—I imported all of them into Canva and did not use any of the Canva templates.
- You might wonder why I still used Canva. It is because of their image creation tools, page feature, and magic resize. It is far better than the same feature in Snappa and PicMonkey, two other programs I like. I probably won’t have the video done illustrating this before I post this article, but if I don’t I’ll be doing it soon.
- I have had to remove over half of the videos that I was going to use in the courses part of the Membership because of images of recognizable people in them. I will have to redo/rerecord the courses. Sigh……..
- I will need to totally redo all my courses I had for you on Canva, Snappa, and Pic Monkey.
- This radically changes my content for the Idea Bank and the Template area, as well as the Templates on the website. I’m still trying to figure out how to redo that, though I’ll simply be taking down a number of things previously put into those areas.
- The Template area going forward is still in flux as to what I will do with it.
Having to redo many courses, templates, and other materials is a bit of a set-back. But I am very thankful I found out about these concerns now and I do believe that when we try hard to be pleasing to the Lord in what we do, even if it seems costly in terms of time, money, and emotional challenges, it is always more than worth it for Him.
Please share your thoughts, comments, questions!