Is Every Image Copyrighted?

When you source an image, you should always look for copyright information. This helps ensure that you are using images legally and ethically.

The moment that an image is created, it becomes protected under copyright laws. If you use an image without permission, you are committing copyright infringement. This can be a very complicated and costly matter!

Copyright vs. Public Domain

While copyright protects a creator’s rights to their creations for specific periods of time, the public domain is the realm of creative materials that are no longer protected by copyright laws. These are the raw materials for new creativity, democratic dialogue and knowledge advancement. It would be ironic if the digital revolution were to impoverish the public domain just as it is providing unprecedented opportunities for citizen participation, creativity and education.

A work enters the public domain as soon as its copyright term expires or when it is voluntarily placed in the public domain. For example, a photographer may use the CC0 Public Domain Dedication tool to waive their copyrights and put their works directly into the global public domain prior to their expiration. Many sites such as Wikimedia Commons and Flickr offer images that are automatically marked with a CC license so that you can quickly determine if an image is free for non-commercial use or not.

In addition, some works are already in the public domain due to statutes or judicial decisions. For example, the decision in Bridgeman v. Getty Images established that faithful reproductions of two-dimensional art in the public domain are not subject to copyright protection if they are displayed for educational or informational purposes. However, three-dimensional art works are not subject to the same rules and are more likely to be protected by copyright.

Another way an image may enter the public domain is by being created or published by a government agency. Government works are generally presumed to be in the public domain, though the U.S. federal government can still own copyrights on certain types of work. In addition, some images on the website Unsplash are automatically marked with a CC license and are therefore considered to be in the public domain.

A final consideration for determining whether an image is in the public domain is whether it is a reproduction of a copyrighted work. For example, the Mona Lisa painting is in the public domain, but a photograph of the work with added detail or artistic embellishment could have its own copyright if it meets the requirements for originality. Similarly, a collection of images that are in the public domain could have its own copyright protection if the person creating the collection used creativity in selecting and organizing the works for inclusion in the collection.

Copyright vs. Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is an international non-profit organization that provides free legal tools to allow creators to more easily share their works under conditions of their choosing. They provide six different license options that can be combined with several conditions to create a spectrum of openness. CC licenses are not a separate legal entity, but work in conjunction with copyright to expand the range of what can be done legally with images.

As such, it’s important to remember that even if an image doesn’t have a copyright symbol or the word “all rights reserved,” it is still protected by copyright. In addition, simply because an image is on the internet does not mean it’s in the public domain. Many people have been sued for violating the copyright of online content they did not obtain permission to use.

Although copyright protection confers some pretty heavy duty protections, it’s hard for copyright holders to track every person who pastes their content into a slideshow presentation or uses it in a family video. It’s also not practical for copyright holders to individually grant usage licenses to each individual who might be interested in using their work.

Fortunately, the creators of Creative Commons have created a simple set of licenses that can be applied to any work to provide some level of legal flexibility. The CC licenses can be identified by the symbols and abbreviations shown below:

These symbol/abbreviation combinations indicate what kind of permission the creator has granted to others to use the work under various conditions. Each of the CC options is available with a full description of what kinds of works it covers and how it can be used at each level of granularity.

For example, CC BY-SA allows others to remix and build upon your work, but requires that they credit you and license any new creations with identical terms. On the other hand, CC BY-NC-ND means that others can use your work for non-commercial purposes, but they cannot change it or make money from it.

Another advantage of CC licensing is that you can filter searches conducted on Google so that only CC and public domain works are displayed. This can be helpful for researchers who want to quickly find high-quality, royalty-free images without having to go through the hassle of requesting permission from the copyright holder.

Copyright vs. Attribution

A copyright is a legal right granted to the creator of an original work. It automatically applies as soon as the work is created in material form and lasts until 70 years after the author’s death, at which time it can enter the public domain. Copyright laws protect authors’ rights to determine who can copy, distribute or adapt their work and for what purpose. Infringement of copyright can result in fines and even jail time.

When searching for images to include in your book, it’s important to consider the copyright status of each one. Most academic libraries and image repositories will only share copyrighted works with permission from the copyright holder. It’s also important to note that just because an image doesn’t have a copyright notice on it, doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain. A previous owner may have removed the copyright notice or the image might have been included in a work that was never published.

You can search for Creative Commons and public domain images using Google’s advanced search options. Depending on the license type, you might need to credit the photo’s creator or link back to the source website. For example, a Creative Commons work with the attribution symbol (or CC) indicates that the image can be used for any purpose, including commercial, but requires credit to the author and doesn’t allow modifications or derivative works.

Some image creators opt to release their work under Creative Commons licenses in order to provide a more flexible set of usage rights. These licenses can restrict the use of an image, for example to only non-commercial or educational purposes. They can also require a specific credit line or a Creative Commons license icon to be displayed.

If you’re working with older or less well-documented images, the best approach is to always seek out permission before publishing a work that includes copyrighted images. Copyright infringement is illegal, and in the case of images, it can cause considerable damage to your reputation as an author. In some cases, you might be asked to pay a fee for use of an image, although this is often waived or reduced for scholarly work.

Copyright vs. Fair Use

The Internet has created this funny, or maybe not so funny, illusion that any image is up for grabs to throw a caption over and repurpose as you please. However, the reality is that copyright is alive and well and protects the work of many photographers.

Copyright is a legal right granted to the creator of an original work of authorship such as written words, music, movies and designs. It protects a work as soon as it’s put into material form and lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. The only way to legally use a copyrighted work is to either get permission from the owner or qualify for a legal exception such as fair use.

Fair use is a legal exception that allows you to temporarily use a copyrighted work without permission from the owner for specific purposes such as commentary, education or news reporting. However, there are several factors courts look at when determining whether or not something is fair use such as how much of the work is used, how it is being used and if it changes the meaning or purpose of the work.

In general, it’s easier to argue fair use for photographs than other types of works since it would be difficult to replace a photograph with something similar in any meaningful way. Additionally, it’s also more difficult to change the meaning or purpose of a photo compared to other types of work.

When looking for images, make sure you’re searching for Creative Commons or public domain photos if possible and carefully read the terms of use on these photos to ensure you’re within the legal guidelines. In addition, Google allows you to filter search results for CC and public domain photos.

Another option is to purchase a license for an image via a photography licensing platform like EyeEm Market, which allows you to access high-quality original images at affordable prices. These services provide the best solution for ensuring you have the proper legal permissions to use an image. While it may seem time consuming to take the extra step, it’s far better than risking having your work taken down or receiving a DMCA notice from a copyright holder.

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