If you’ve ever written a blog, launched a website or published anything in the online space then you’ve probably wondered whether or not you’re allowed to use a particular image sourced from another site on the web. Most people want to do the right thing, but using good quality images in a post or an info page just makes for a far more engaging piece of communication. You’ve also probably noticed that most online publishers use a lot of commercial images and wondered how they would ever request permission for all those images. Publishers like Buzzfeed churn out image-heavy content all day, every day, and they are a profit-making business.
“If they can do it, why can’t I?”
Sites like this can legally use copyrighted images under the exception of fair use (USA) or fair dealing (Australia). This exception applies to cases such as the following: criticism, parody, news reporting, research and teaching. News and satirical publishers like Buzzfeed, Mashable or Perez Hilton would cite either news reporting or Parody as case for fair-use or fair-dealing. There are differences in the laws for both countries, but in circumstances like this they are consistent. Memes fit under the parody exception, which is part of the reason they are able to go viral so quickly as almost all are based on copyrighted material.
We get this question a lot from clients who run commercial websites. The answer is usually no. If you have a website that’s promoting your business or selling products or services online, then it will likely be deemed commercial use. If your commercial website runs a blog, then you may be able to claim fair-use within posts recommending products or talking about industry issues and the image is relevant. If you want to use an image that you don’t own on your website, you have four practical options:
Buy a camera.
Source an image from the creative commons. There are a number of sites online that are repositories for images with lapsed copyright. Copyright is automatically held 50 years and can be renewed if required so generally you’ll only find little old ladies in petticoats and turn of the century children’s illustrations in these resources.
Purchase an image from a stock photography website like istock.com, which provide you with a limited licence to use that image. If you have a commercial website but don’t want to invest in a professional photo shoot, then this is your best bet.
Be confident that your use of the image falls under the exception of fair-use or fair dealing. If you are unsure it is best to err on the side of caution; however in most jurisdictions, copyright holders are required to issue a cease and desist order before taking action. This gives the publisher an opportunity to take the image down from a website. It’s a lot easier to do in the online environment than a printed publication, so the risk to website publisher’s is minimal.
If you are the creator you don’t need to copyright your work. Copyright is automatic and doesn’t require the author to fill out any special paperwork. The use of the (C) and year are traditionally used to mark the year the work was produced, making copyright valid from that date.
Very different to copyright and legally registers a name, phrase or symbol to the owner. Trademarks are used to protect businesses from other’s trading and benefiting off their name and good will. Trademarks are not automatic and require a thorough application process in each country required to protect the property.
Applicable to inventions, patents are to protect inventors from having their ideas and concepts stolen or replicated. Patents also play an important part in protecting investors who spend large sums developing new products. If patents weren’t enforced, there would be nothing stopping rivals copying each others’ products and create little incentive for investment in new ideas.