Copyright is a the word buzzing through the internet lately. With SOPA narrowly defeated, bloggers, web designers and every-day web surfers can breathe a bit easier while posting images they’ve lifted off LOLCats or ICanHazCheezburger… or can they?
While most internet memes are so prevalent on the ‘net, it’s impossible to track down the original image-holder. Chances are good you’re looking for high-quality images to illustrate points on your blog, not a picture of a kitten sitting on a laptop with a cute saying written across the bottom, which means you need to use images that are not in the public domain.
The problem is, nearly all the images that come up under a Google-Image search are covered by some form of copyright. That means the images, and the right to reproduce them, online, in print or in any other media, belong to the person who created the image; who drew the picture, took the photo or created the file with Adobe Photoshop.Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks
While there is a lot of confusion over what copyright actually means, and what is fair, both to the public and to the creator, there are some basic guidelines to follow when you need an image for your blog, website or other use. Here’s how to keep yourself out of hot water:
1) Understand the basics of copyright law. You know those music videos everyone loves uploading to Youtube? Yep, those are copyright infringements. Each use of a copyrighted work can have statutory damages up to $30,000. If the copyright owner can prove willful infringement, the amount can be increased to $150,000 per incident.
If Big Music decided to stomp Youtube users, it would be Napster all over again.
Image by Ivan Walsh
2) Creative Commons licensing:
First of all, CC is not a license to just take an image or file and use it any way you please. Creative Commons is a set of copyright licenses developed by a non-profit organization that allows creators to make their creations available for use with specific restrictions. There are six different licenses offered under Creative Commons:
Attribution- Allows for distribution, modification and commercial use, but requires that the original creator be credited.
Attribution-Share Alike- An attribution license that goes further- this license requires that modified or edited work also be credited back to the original creator- so you might caption an image with something like “original image by Joe Artist, edited by Ted Designer”.
Attribution-NoDerivs- This license allows for distribution with credit given, but not for modification. The image or file must be presented as a whole, unchanged.
Attribution-NonCommercial- Allows for the use of an image or file, and the modification of the image, but only for non-commercial use.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike- Under this license, you may modify the image or file and use it for any non-profit purpose, but modified files must be re-licensed under the same license. In other words, you can’t use Photoshop to modify Joe Artist’s cat photo, then offer the result to others under a simple Attribution license.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs- This is the most restrictive license. Under this one, files and photos can be downloaded and shared, but credit must be given to the creator and the material cannot be modified or used commercially.
Copyright law can be confusing to read, but it doesn’t have to be in practice. Seek out and use stock-photo sharing sites. Use Flickr’s Advanced Search to find images with Creative Commons licensing. Take your own photos if need be. A basic usage rule of thumb is, when in doubt, get permission. After all, don’t you want the same courtesy?