Finding high quality images on the net is quite easy these days. But what if you do find that one great image that completes your story? Can you just copy-paste it to your blog/website/… ? Unfortunately, no. There are some legal implications in taking someone else’s images and using them for your own benefit.
Sarah F. Hawkins has written an extensive article on this subject, which can be found here. In this article, we’ll give you a short overview.
What is copyright exactly?
Most images (and other man-made things for that matter) are copyrighted. This means you can’t just go about taking other people’s work. You have to ask permission. And although this might seem annoying, there’s logic behind it. After all, you wouldn’t want other people to just take your stuff either, would you?
Opposed to what most people think, copyright doesn’t need to be filed, asked or paid for (contrary to trademarks and patents). Copyrights are automatically attached to any creation or original idea. This means that every image on the web is copyrighted, with one exception: public domain.
Creative Commons, Public Domain & Fair Use
There are three instances that are commonly seen as ‘free’: Creative Commons, Public Domain & Fair Use.
Fair Use is a legal term and does not necessarily reflect what you think is fair. There are four factors you need to consider:
- Amount used
Note that the work used through Fair Use is still copyrighted. Fair use only permits you to use it once. Do not consider Fair Use to be a catch-all excuse to use any image you want. More information can be found here or here.
Public domain is a term for everything that is not copyrighted, and is the only legal exception to copyright. This includes works for which the rights have expired, are forfeited or are inapplicable. Be advised that these rights may vary per country, type of work and other things. Most government works are public domain, but not always.
The Creative Commons licence is actually a collection of licenses that grant you some rights to use (part of) a work. Be careful, because there are many different CC licenses that differ greatly in the rights they grant you. Always check the Creative Commons website to see whether you can use a work and how.
Just because an image is on the web, doesn’t mean you can just grab it and use it. When in doubt, ask the creator or don’t use the work. Only if you’re really sure you can take the image and use it.
Some articles that go deeper into the matter:
Finding free images (! You still need to check the license though)
What do you think on the matter of copyright? Join the discussion in the comments below.