This page sets out to provide an overview of image copyright issues.
Did You Take the Photo or Create the Graphic?
If you took the photo or created the graphic and are not subject to a Work For Hire agreement, then you will most likely own the copyright and can do whatever you wish with the file.
Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement Are Not the Same
While it is difficult to detect visual plagiarism, when it does occur it’s not a legal problem. Plagiarism is an ethical concern that may have other elements of intellectual property theft tied with it. Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is illegal and carries with it potentially significant consequences. Plagiarism can be avoided by providing attribution and giving credit, copyright infringement can not. (Image via Shutterstock.)
Attribution Does Not Make it Right
Taking another person’s image or graphic and giving them a “shout out,” linkback, or any other type of attribution does not negate copyright infringement. Common sense may say that an artist wants exposure for their work, but we’re talking about the law here and common sense doesn’t always parallel. Copyright law gives the copyright holder the right to decide where their work is published and maybe they don’t want their work on your site, in your book, included in your newsletter or distributed to your social media network. It’s not for us to question why they wouldn’t want “exposure.”
Ask and You May Receive
That same person who decides to send a DMCA Takedown Notice may have said yes if asked. Most people are rational and will agree to let their image or graphic be used. But they want the decision to be theirs and they want to allow it on their terms. Not everyone will say yes and we all have our reasons why we wouldn’t, but most will. And if they say no, that’s OK too because then you just move on and won’t have to worry about your site going down because of a DMCA takedown.
Avoid All Problems and Use Public Domain Images
Sounds simple, but most people don’t even realize that there are tens of millions of high-quality graphics and photos available for the taking. I know you’re thinking I’m making this up, but I’m here to tell you that not all free images are low-quality, random pictures of wildebeests or clowns. There are many websites that curate images that are in the public domain and allow users to upload images they’re willing to put into the public domain. With public domain images you’re free to use them in any way and in most cases you don’t have to provide attribution. Check the terms of the site to determine if attribution is required and, if so, follow the requested format.
Understand the Creative Commons License You Use
There are several photo-sharing sites where users can allow others to download and use images under one of the several Creative Commons licenses, all of which require attribution. Many people are happy to share their photos. But again, they get to decide the rules. Also realize that the owner may change the license after you use the image and may that trigger a request for removal. It is important to know that a Creative Commons license is non-revocable, although explaining that to someone who didn’t read the license they assigned to their image could be a waste of time.
Different Uses Come With Different Obligations
It may be acceptable to use an image, as is, on your blog, but you may not have the right to use that same image in a paid newsletter, book, video or other type of work. Unless the image is in the public domain or you are the copyright holder, you have to consider the use(s) granted by the copyright holder or license. A copyright holder may be agreeable to certain uses but not to others.\
Fair Use Likely Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means
Fair Use is a doctrine in Copyright law that basically says you’re allowed to infringe someone’s copyright and they can’t demand anything from you. It may sound simple, but it’s one of the most complex parts of Copyright law. So complex that there are very few cases to look to for guidance. Copyright Fair Use for online images does exist, just not in the way most people believe it does.
The article above was based largely on
The Best Ways to Be Sure You’re Legally Using Online Photos
The article was re-written for Australian T&C