The dominance of digital photography online has created confusion in some areas, particularly with respect to copyright law. With printed photographs, copyright law was quite clear – the original photographer owns the rights to use and reproduce the image. Infringing on said copyright would take effort as scanning and digital imaging equipment was still very new and not widely available. Today, digital photography coupled with the Internet (social media, blogging and online business) have culminated into copyright issues difficult to untangle. Here are a few basics to help you stay on the right side of the law:
Using Photos Found Online: Using your own photos on your blog is very simple as you own the copyright of the images you create. However, what about other images you find online?
This can be a tricky area because, while some photos are fine to use for your blog, others are off limits. If you find a particular photo you’re interested in using, send an email to the original owner requesting permission to use it. It helps to include your own blog/website as well as a brief description of how you wish to use it. Make sure the person you are contacting actually has the rights to the image and didn’t just copy it from another source. Having a response in writing stating that use is approved is important before moving forward. You will also want to include credit to the original source in your post.
Fair Use Exception: Current U.S. copyright law states that it is illegal to reproduce another’s work without consent from the copyright owner. However, there is an exception in the law called the Fair Use Exception, which states that it is possibly lawful “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, . . . scholarship, or research.” This exception includes four factors to consider – a subject too lengthy to cover here – but an example of fair use allowance would include a movie critic citing a line of dialogue in a critique. To learn more, review the law or consult a copyright attorney if there is any concern about infringement because it can be an expensive mistake.
Creative Commons: Creative Commons is a nonprofit agency that exists to allow photographers and other artists to provide a use license to the public to reproduce or use images through a “some rights reserved” license. Some licenses are restricted to “non-commercial use only,” meaning they can’t be used for selling, promoting or marketing a product or service. You can click on an image to determine if it leads to a CC designation. Again, if there’s any doubt, email the image creator to clarify rights.
Stock Photography: Many bloggers, webmasters, marketers and content providers turn to stock photography providers to purchase images. Some companies, such as iStockPhoto, Getty, Shutterstock and others offer images, illustrations and even video clips that can be purchased and used for these purposes. This route is the safest if you need an image for a particular project (and can’t take or create it yourself) because the rights of use are clearly articulated and you can take comfort in knowing they are clean for use.
Today’s digital domain is extremely confusing with laws changing and varying from state to state. The best rule to follow is to use your own images whenever possible, and if you find something you like, request permission or purchase royalty-free images as an alternative. Please note that this article is not a substitute for legal advice, but rather a guideline to help you decide how to handle each situation. An attorney should be consulted if you have specific concerns. Our advice remains–if there’s any doubt, leave it out.