This week’s guest blog post was written by Lesley Ellen Harris, a lawyer, educator and author who has written four books on licensing and copyright issues. Read more about copyright basics at her website at CopyrightLaws.com. Follow her on Twitter at @CopyrightLaws.
* * *
By Lesley Ellen Harris
Is this you?
I found the perfect image in Google images, and inserted the image into my post.
Many assume if an image is online or in another blog that we may freely use it. In fact, the opposite is true. So if you locate that perfect image, assume it is protected by copyright.
What if the photo has a Creative Commons or CC license? Can I use the photo without obtaining permission?
Well, that depends on which of the six CC licenses applies. On one end of the spectrum, the Attribution CC BY license allows you to distribute, remix, tweak and adapt, even commercially, as long as you give credit to the original creation.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND restrictive license only allowing you to use the photo as is for noncommercial purposes, with credit to the photographer. Read all about the CC licenses, then determine the permitted uses each time you see a CC license on a photograph.
For sure, I can use an image found in a U.S. government site because I’ve heard that there is no copyright in U.S. government works.
It’s true that works created by employees of the U.S. government do not have copyright protection. However, the U.S. government may be assigned copyright by a photographer or cartographer or consultant. So unless you know for sure that the photo was created by a government employee, you may need to inquire about copyright permission before inserting the photo into your post.
If the image is already in a blog post, then there is no problem with me reposting that image.
Again, you need to check out the circumstances. Start with the premise that the photo is protected by copyright and only use it without obtaining permission if it is clear by the photographer or a visible written license that you can use that photo without clearing rights.
OK, then, I bought the photo through a stock agency. Now I can do anything I want with that photo?
Not so fast. Stock agencies have licenses. You do not actually buy as in “transfer of ownership” photographs from stock agencies. In fact, you license the photos subject to terms and conditions in that license. Do you actually have to read the license? In the ideal world, yes. But most people do not read them. Many agencies provide summaries of their licenses in plain English. See iStock Photo licenses.
I am just going to take my own photo. Surely that is completely risk free in a copyright sense.
As long as you did not take the photograph as part of your work duties. If you are employed, your employer owns copyright in photographs you took as part of your work duties.
If the rules for using photos in a blog sound complicated, you are not alone. However, do not get overwhelmed. Follow the simple guidelines below to avoid mistakes in legally posting photos.
10 Guidelines to Follow
- Assume all online content is protected by copyright.
- Linking to a photo is less risky, in terms of copyright laws, than copying and pasting that image onto your site.
- Take your own photos when possible. Unless you are employed and required to take photos as part of your work duties, you own the copyright in your own photos. Note that you should obtain a model release from any persons appearing in your photographs. This is separate from a copyright issue. Generally, obtain a model release where a person or body part, such as an identifying tattoo, is recognizable.
- A Creative Commons license is just that: a license. Read the terms and conditions and see what is allowed or not.
- Stock photo agencies provide you with a license to use its photos. That license is subject to specified terms and conditions (to which supposedly you have agreed.) IStockphoto has standard and extended licenses. Read the summaries of the licenses provided by stock agencies.
- Just because you obtained permission once does not give you unlimited use of that image. Check your permission and see if it was one-time or multiple use, over what period of time, and for what purposes.
- Only manipulate or morph photos with the photographer’s permission.
- Only make a colored photo black and white with the photographer’s permission.
- When you seek permission from photographers, always ask first if they actually own the copyright in the photograph. Photographers may have assigned their rights to someone else, or the photographs may have been created at work as part of their work duties. In these latter cases, the photographers do not have the right to provide you with permission to the use the photograph.
- A reproduction is a reproduction is a reproduction. Whether you include a photograph in a magazine article, blog post or community poster, you are reproducing that photograph and under copyright law, you need permission to use that photo.
Please consider this post as information only. Seek proper legal advice if you need it.
Update from The Publicity Hound on Oct. 17, 2012: I found this interesting article on a photographer who is suing Apple for an image it didn’t license.