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The rules governing the borrowing of written content also apply to photos and graphics. Financial advisors who face budget challenges and are tempted to copy a stock photo off Google Images or elsewhere on the Internet for use on their own website or in marketing materials should be warned: You can easily face a $1,000 fine as a result of a copyright violation. Photos typically are the biggest source of offense.

The culture of the Web and the nature of sharing thoughts, pictures, and other material on social sites have contributed to some of the misunderstanding over how much borrowing can be done. When everyone shares, there's sometimes a belief at some level that the material belongs to everyone. Make no mistake: There is only one true owner, and it's the individual who created the material in the first place. You can no more appropriate another person's creative work wholesale than you can drive off with the person's automobile when they've left the keys in the car.

The good news is there are simple rules that financial professionals can keep in mind to avoid legal entanglements with images:[1]

■ Know what's protected. From the moment of its creation, any original graphic image, photograph, or design automatically enjoys copyright protection.

■ Someone else's license isn't yours. Someone on the Internet may be sharing an image to which they have rights, but the mere act of sharing doesn't transfer those rights to you or anyone else.

■ Seek permission. When you've come across exactly the right image for your next marketing campaign, take the next step and obtain the owner's approval to use it. You want to ensure you have whatever licenses are necessary, and remember to credit the photographer or designer in your own work.

■ Linking doesn't cut it. It's a common misconception: You can use the photo as long as you link to its source. It's not so; attaching a link as a

citation for the source is totally different from having the right to reproduce the photo.

Consider free or low-cost images. Good news: there are many online firms that offer such photos and graphics, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the material. Here are a few sites:

■ A subscription service that's good if you have continuous need for stock images.

■ morgueFile (free)

■ Microsoft Images (free)

■ freeimages (free)

■ RGB Stock (free)

■ iStock. Purchase credits on this site to download images.

Good-quality images always improve the overall excellence of marketing content, which leads to greater engagement with you target audience. But just as advisors are obliged to comply with federal and state regulations in the course of their business, they also need to know how to use text and images in the course of their marketing efforts.

The good news is you easily can achieve your goals in this part of your business without running afoul of copyright.

  • [1] Helpful information about image copyright rules and how to license stock photos can be found at
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