This post discusses the copyright implications of using images found through an online search engine such as Google. In general, you should assume that all images you want to use are protected by copyright unless and until you find out otherwise.
Have You Found the Perfect Image on Google?
How many times have you used Google or another search engine and found the perfect image, illustration or photograph? As tempting as it is to copy and paste that image on your blog or elsewhere, and perhaps even manipulate it for your purposes, you need to consider copyright law before doing so.
Google is a search engine that helps you locate content such as images and photos. It is not a content depository, and it is not a collection of public domain or copyright-free works. Google directs you to images and photos and other online content according to your search criteria. Once you find that perfect image or photo, you must treat that image like any other content you find online. It is always prudent to start by assuming that the image is protected by copyright law in your own country and around the world. Then do your research. Take the necessary effort and steps to determine if the image is protected by copyright and if so, get permission to use it before you use it.
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Assume that Online Content is Protected by Copyright
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- Copyright-wise, it’s always less risky to link to a legal photo or other image than it is to copy and paste that image onto your website or social media platform.[spacer height=”20px”]
- When possible, use photos and other images that you’ve taken yourself. Unless you’re employed and took the photos as part of your job, you own the copyright in your own photos. (Don’t forget to obtain a model release from any persons in your photographs. This isn’t a copyright issue, but is a privacy/publicity issue.)[spacer height=”20px”]
- Use images that have a Creative Commons (CC) license. However, be aware that a CC license is just that: a license. You need to read its terms and conditions and see what’s allowed or not. Not all CC licenses allow the same uses. A CC license may allow use as-is, or in a remix or as part of a new work, and in most cases requires attribution of the copyright owner.[spacer height=”20px”]
- Purchase images from stock photo agencies and follow the license terms; you’re not outright buying the image from a stock agency, but are paying for certain uses of it. Read the specific terms and conditions (to which you have agreed). For example, you may be able to post the image on your website but you may require additional permission to use the image on the front cover of a print book.[spacer height=”20px”]
- When you seek permission from the copyright owner of an image, always ask first if they actually own the copyright in the image. The image’s creator may have assigned their rights to someone else, or the photographs or other images may have been created at work as part of the creator’s employment duties. In these latter cases, the photographers or other image creators do not have the right to provide you with permission to use their work.
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