Author: Shawn Ewert, Business Analyst
While it is never a good idea to claim an image found online as your own, there are a lot of gray areas that surround copyrighted images and their usage online. I have to start out by saying I am not an attorney and am by no means giving legal advice. However, as a business analyst in the world of advertising, it is often incumbent upon me to bring up concerns to clients about potential copyright infringement issues. That being said, any time there is a question about using someone else’s content, it should definitely be a question for the legal folks.
I Made It
The simplest way to know that you are not going to run into any infringement issues is to create the content yourself or contract someone to do it for you. Did you/your company take the photo or create the image? Then it belongs to you. Generally, if it is something that was created with your own two hands, you own it. Creating your own content or partnering with someone to do it for you also makes the content more applicable to your business. No one knows your business better than you do, and creating content gives consumers a view of your company that only you could provide.
Buying the Cow
There are any number of websites dedicated to gathering images for people to use on their websites, blogs, newspaper articles, etc. Oddly enough, they want to be paid for all of that work. Websites such as Shutterstock and Getty Images offer both subscription services and pay-per-image options that allow their users the ability to search through and use the images they have gathered. Whether you need one image for one article or 200 images to populate an entire website, these paid services take the guesswork out of image rights. Usage rights to high-resolution versions of images can be purchased, and everyone can rest assured that no one is getting the short end of the stick.
Getting the Milk for Free
For every paid site, there are multiple sites offering their own galleries of images for free. Sites such as MorgueFile and Copyright Free Images specialize in public domain and free usage images. While these sites do offer images without the fees, their selection is usually considerably less than the paid sites, and often the download of the image does not come with a model or property release. While that, in and of itself, should not negate using their images, it should give anyone looking to use those images pause enough to think about the content they want to use on their website or blog. Additionally, some of these sites may require attribution of the artist or copyright holder. It is always a good idea to make sure the permissions, and their requirements, are understood.
Everyone wants credit for their work. Unfortunately, that credit doesn’t always pay the bills. Crediting an artist or copyright holder with their work being used on a website or in an article is not enough to get around copyright laws. The laws surrounding copyrighting give the artist/holder the right to decide where and how their work is used for publication. If they do not want their work associated with a particular website, newspaper or blog, they have the right to not have their work publicized in that forum. By not going through the proper channels to attain the permission to an image, that right is taken away from the artist/holder, and the person using the image opens themself up to a DMCA Takedown Notice or even a copyright infringement lawsuit. In this case, it is always better to ask for permission than for forgiveness.
It seems incredibly simple, but often just asking the artist/copyright holder if their image can be used is all it takes. The same person that might send a DMCA Takedown Notice could just as easily grant permission if simply asked. Even if permission is not granted for a specific image, the likelihood of something similar being available is high. It may just take some more searching.