The Ethical Use of Images

People and bicycles in the sun near a river in Yosemite, California. Ethical use of Image; licensed under Creative Commons.
Yosemite California” by Pedro Szekely is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

I love the sun.

I especially love being warmed by the sun outdoors. Alas, it’s hard to see my laptop display when I sit in the sun. So for this graduate school assignment, I’m sitting at my desk indoors, writing a post about the sunny photo above. It shows two bicycles and two people—possibly campers setting up camp—on a sandy riverbank in Yosemite, California. It meets step one of my class assignment: find an image on Creative Commons and note its licensure. (The proper image citation appears under the photo.)

Interestingly, the majority of image results returned by my “sun” search depicted ominous, fiery-red, or angry bronze orbs suggesting doom and gloom, and/or the end of days! The image above was the first on the results page to display the sun’s rays and warmth in a gentle way. I located the image by starting my search at When I worked in marketing, I’d buy stock imagery for marketing communications projects. Utilizing Creative Commons to find a free image was new to me.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons (“CC”) is a nonprofit organization that “helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity.” Creativity here can mean photos, videos, writing, music, and other content that creators wish to share and allow others to reuse for free. CC Licenses provide a standard way for content creators to grant someone permission to use their work. CC Public Domain Tools help people discover works that are free of copyright restrictions.

Besides giving the image above a proper citation, I provided it with Alternative Text (alt text), which is critical for compliance with Universal Design.

What is Universal Design?

Universal design is a simple yet important rule. It dictates that products and environments should be designed to be used by all people. Things (including websites) should be created to be as functional as possible for as many people as possible. Including alternative text with website images achieves this, as alt text conveys the content of an image to the visually impaired. Screen reader software reads alt text aloud; it’s indexed by search engines as well.

The alt text I wrote for the image above is, “People and bicycles in the sun near a river in Yosemite, California.” My SEO plugin (Yoast) wasn’t too happy with it, though, since it didn’t relate to my focus keyphrase (“ethical use of images”).

I’ll let universal design win over search engine optimization, in this case!

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