Copyright is the legal right to protect intellectual property. That includes images and photos.
Using someone else’s copyrighted image without their permission can land you in big trouble, both professionally and financially. In this article, we’ll break down exactly what copyright is and how it applies to images online.
What is copyright?
Copyright is the legal concept that gives the author of a creative work exclusive ownership rights for a limited amount of time. This protection extends to literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works.
When you see a beautiful or compelling image online, it may be tempting to use the picture in your personal or professional projects. However, most images are copyrighted and cannot be used without the permission or license of the copyright owner. This type of usage is considered a copyright violation, and it can carry significant legal and financial consequences.
Copyright owners can exercise their rights by putting a “
To determine if an image is copyrighted, look for the following indicators:
Often times, when someone creates something original and wants to share it with others, they will add a “
Many photographers and designers will include a note on their website or social media page that indicates they retain the copyright for all of their work. They may also have a watermark across the image that clearly states their ownership of the copyright. Lastly, the image may be protected by a copyright that has been registered with a federal government agency.
Some images are in the public domain, meaning that their copyright has expired or they have transferred the rights to someone else. However, even if an image is in the public domain, it is important to credit the image properly. This can be done by using a Creative Commons license. The Creative Commons organization manages six different types of licenses, ranging from allowing any use as long as the image is credited to only allowing noncommercial usage.
Who owns the copyright?
Copyright law gives owners specific rights, such as the right to reproduce their works and to make derivative works. Owners may also have “moral rights,” such as the right to have their name attached to their work or the right to prevent the destruction of their work. As a general rule, the initial creator of a work owns the copyright, but it can change hands during the course of its existence. A good strategy for finding out who owns the copyright is to check the work’s publication history. For example, publishers tend to keep organized records of their publishing agreements, and they can help you identify copyright holders.
How do I get permission to use an image?
There are a few different ways to get permission to use an image. The easiest way is to contact the copyright holder directly. This may be the individual photographer, an agency that offers the images for licensing, or a museum or library that has the rights to the collection. The copyright holder will be able to tell you the terms and conditions of using the image. Generally, you will be required to pay a fee to use the image.
The other option is to find an image that is in the public domain. Works in the public domain are those whose copyrights have expired, been forfeited or do not apply. You can also find images on websites that offer a Creative Commons license, which allows for the free use of an image under certain conditions. Some photographers and artists also give away their photos for free through email, but proper attribution is usually required.
In some cases, you can avoid needing permission to use an image by applying the four factors of fair use. The purpose of your use, how much of the image you take, how big it is and if you have changed it significantly can all be taken into account in a fair use analysis. However, this is a case-by-case assessment and should be used only when it can be reasonably justified.
You can also simplify ownership disputes by registering your images with a copyright office. This is a process that varies by country, but usually involves filing an online application or sending in a paper application with copies of the images. While registering your work doesn’t protect you from someone else taking it, it will give you stronger legal rights in the event of an infringement lawsuit. This is especially important if you are a professional photographer or creator of other intellectual property.
What happens if I infringe on someone’s copyright?
When it comes to image copyright, there’s a very fine line between fair use and outright theft. If you’re using an image without permission for commercial purposes, you can be subject to hefty statutory damages and costly legal fees. So, be aware of the rules and play it safe – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
If you infringe someone’s copyright by posting their work without a license, they can send you a cease and desist letter asking that you remove the image or give them credit. If you don’t comply with the terms of the cease and desist letter, they can sue you for statutory damages, which can be quite high in the case of willful infringement.
For many photographers, this can be financially devastating. To avoid this, consider avoiding the use of images you haven’t obtained permission for and instead opting for your own stock photos or images that are in the public domain (i.e., those that were created before January 1, 1924).
If your usage of an image falls into the category of “fair use,” you can probably use it without fear of penalty if it’s for one of the following reasons:
However, it’s important to remember that even though you may have a license from a stock photo agency, you’re still responsible for ensuring that you aren’t infringing on anyone else’s copyright. If you are worried about whether or not your usage of an image is fair use, seek the advice of a lawyer to be sure. It’s also a good idea to register your images with the Copyright Office, which can help with enforcing your rights in the event of an infringement.