When it comes to photos, when in doubt, assume itâ€™s subject to copyright and donâ€™t use it without the appropriate permission.
What it comes down to is that if you need to use another personâ€™s
image, make sure it fits clearly into one of the protected purposes or
seek legal counsel if there is a significant investment of money or time
in your project.
Fair use may be an exception allowing you to use copyrighted images, but chances are youâ€™ll be in for a discussion or possibly find your site taken down by your host if the copyright holder disagrees.
Unfortunately, there are no significant cases that establish
hard-and-fast rules when it comes to fair use and images used on the
However, photographers and graphic artists often make a living from
selling or licensing their work and if we all just poached what we
wanted, weâ€™d be circumventing not only the law but also interfering with
their right to control how they distribute their images.
Copyright fair use has been fought over when it comes to using words
and images in print publications. The Internet, though, is still very
much in its infancy when it comes to fair use guidance.
Without bright line rules, weâ€™re each left to interpret laws that were written long before digital communication was ever imagined
and did not contemplate the ease of sharing that exists today. While it
may be a remote possibility that the average blogger will be sued for
copyright infringement relating to an image, bear in mind that you may
be the proverbial â€œstraw that broke the camelâ€™s back.â€
If youâ€™re considering taking images from large agencies, they have
legal teams that do nothing but look for infringing uses. There are
inexpensive ways to search for images online, even if you change the
file name. And if youâ€™re thinking youâ€™ll just crop the image so you
canâ€™t see the copyright notice or other identifying information, think twice about that because the penalty for doing so is very stiffâ€” up to $25,000, plus attorney fees and damages.
There are many resources for free images,
whether public domain, licensed creative commons or inexpensive stock
images, so you really shouldnâ€™t need to use copyright-protected works
for beautifying your site, creating that cool presentation or making a video. But if you really have to have that image, ask first. Youâ€™d be surprised at how many people would gladly grant permission for use of their images.
Fair use doesnâ€™t mean fair game, but itâ€™s there to allow for uses that will benefit society and the public good. Donâ€™t be afraid to use images. Use this information to make good decisions and youâ€™re likely to be just fine. Always, though, if in doubt leave it out (or get permission or ask a lawyer).
What do you think? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.
Disclosure: While Sara Hawkins is an attorney, this article is for informational purposes only and is not to be considered legal advice.
*Not intended to be legal advice.