We are all aware of the fact that sometimes, you find a picture that just checks all the boxes – but you can’t use it because you aren’t sure if it would raise copyright issues. In fact, using copyright images from search engines can amount to stealing, which can then lead to copyright infringement letters and even an aggravated lawsuit!
Thus, it is actually quite important for you to be careful and check which images are copyright protected, and which ones are free to use.
Now – although that sounds like an easy task, with the plethora of pictures available online, it is no walk in the park when it comes to identifying which pictures you can use without any legal repercussions, and which are copyright images.
To help you, we have compiled a few ways you can identify copyright images and make sure that you keep yourself out of legal webwork.
What is copyright?
Essentially, copyright is a branch of intellectual property law that is focused on safeguarding original works of authorship. Copyright covers a lot of works, such as paintings, musical compositions, computer programs, books, blog posts, architectural works, plays, movies, poems, paintings, and of course: photographs.
If we look at things from a certain perspective, everyone is a copyright owner. If you create something original and claim rights over it as yours, you’re essentially a copyright owner and hence have full control of the thing in question.
The purpose of copyright is actually quite simple. Although technology is helpful in many regards, it can also lead to some harm – for example, the ease with which original works can be stolen, distributed, and monetized in other ways. As one can assume, if the creator’s work is duplicated and distributed, they don’t really get to enjoy the fruits of their hard work. This is unfair and hence, must be controlled in whatever way possible.
Being a copyright owner means that you have the right to reproduce this work, prepare derivative works based upon this work, distribute copies of your work, perform the work in any capacity that you like, display the work publicly, and anything else that comes within this umbrella: including the right to authorize other to exercise any of the above-mentioned rights. The creator of any work automatically is its copyright owner – there is no need to provide a copyright notice or register the work with a copyright office.
However, what if you’re not the owner of the work and want to use someone else’s work?
That spells trouble! If you’re using the copyright owner’s work without their permission or authorization, you’re essentially triggering a lot of statutes, legal complications, and whatnot!
Therefore, it is always better to be on the safe side of things and make sure that you’re not using a copyrighted image without the copyright owner’s permission.
How to know if the image is copyrighted?
This might sound like a complicated task, but to be honest, it really isn’t. This is because, as far as the law is concerned, everything is copyrighted right when it is created. So, all images may be subject to copyright in case a legal dispute arises.
What should be more concerned about is who owns the copyright, as opposed to how to know if the image is copyrighted. Once you find that out, you can contact them and ask them for permission to use copyright images.
But how can you figure out who the image belongs to? Well, there are quite a few methods. Let’s look at each one in turn:
1. Look for contact details or image credits.
Needless to say, the first step is to check if the picture is accompanied by contact details of the copyright owner or credits of some sort.
Oftentimes, the picture is accompanied by an email address, link to social media or website, or a contact number. This is perhaps the easiest way to find the information of the copyright owner, and you can then reach out to them and ask them for permission to use their work.
2. Check for watermarks.
However, it is not always as easy to get the contact details of the copyright owner. In case there are no credits or contact information available, the best option is to check for a watermark. The watermark may hint towards the name of the person or organization that owns the work, and this might help you in terms of contacting them.
Remember that the watermark is there for a reason, and should only use it to contact the person who owns the copyright images. You should never tamper with the watermark in any way because that is very strong evidence of willful intent behind copyright infringement.
3. Check meta-data.
You might have to turn to the meta-data for information on the copyright owner. This is because sometimes, the image creator embeds crucial information into the image’s meta-data. You can check the image’s meta-data on Windows.
Just right-click, go to Properties, and you’ll have access to the properties. This might lead to you gaining a slightly deeper insight into the copyright information.
4. Copyright image search.
Did you know that copyright image search is a thing? Well, it’s technically Google reverse image search – but it is a useful tool when you’re trying to find the details of a copyrighted image.
All you have to do is run a quick reverse Google Image search on the search engine. Google will give you a list of all the places it can find the image, and you can see where the image is originally from.
5. Search the U.S Copyright Office Database.
In case none of the 4 methods above help you, you might have to check into the U.S. Copyright Office Database – which can be seen as an image copyright checker. A simple search with the photographer’s name or the title of the image might tell you whether or not the image is copyrighted.
However, it is important to remember that the creator is under no obligation to register their copyright ownership in order to be valid, and hence this image copyright checker may not really be of worth. As long as they are the copyright owner, they have complete control over the work, whether or not this has been recorded on paper or not.
No matter which way you actually succeed in finding the copyright owner’s details, it is very important to get permission to use an image before you use it.
If you can’t find the source or have no luck with the details of the copyright owner, it’s better to not use the copyright images altogether, instead of taking a risk and using an image that comes under copyright protection.
What happens if you infringe someone’s copyright?
In case you’re wondering what happens when you infringe someone’s copyright, let’s have a rundown of that as well.
First of all, the last thing on your mind should be to use a copyrighted image without the owner’s permission! It is important to understand that a lot of money, time, and resources go behind each work you find on the Internet. Even if it is a small, minuscule little illustration: there has been time, effort, and hard work that has gone into it, and hence, the creator deserves to get the reward for that as well!
For this reason, if copyright law is triggered, you might have to pay damages to the owner. And since the law differs from country to country, it is important to check the copyright law of your country before you go on an image hunt.
If you’re in the US, then you will find this law in the US Code. The basic damages for infringing the rights of a work registered with the Copyright Office start from about $750 and can go up to $30,000! Not only that, but if the creator can provide willful infringement, then the copyright claims can go up to $150,000 per work.
As you can tell, that’s A LOT of money. The kind of money that you don’t want to spend just because you mistakenly used someone else’s work!
Therefore, you must always be aware.
What copyright images can you use?
As already discussed, ideally, you should only be using copyright images with permission. However, we understand that it is not always the most feasible option. This is where copyright-free images come into play.
You may have heard of some websites that allow you to download pictures for private use. These images are usually regarded as “copyright-free images” or “royalty-free images” and although they can be used for private use, they cannot be used commercially.
But how do these images work? Well, these images are protected under the Creative Commons CC0. The provisions of the CC0 are as follows:
“The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.”
So essentially, these pictures have copyright owners – it’s just that these owners have decided to let their images be used by the general public, thereby giving them legal access to their work.
Where can I find copyright-free images?
There are many websites out there that can help you find copyright-free images! Let’s have a look at some of these:
Freerange is a website that can be used to get access to a lot of copyright images. All you have to do is register for an account (free), and you will be introducing yourself to a whole new world of high-resolution pictures – that will not raise any copyright issues!
What’s even better is that you can use Freerange images for both private and public use. And if you ever feel like contributing one of your own works, you will get Adsense revenue sharing which is yet another plus.
Unsplash is one of the most famous free stock photography websites. You can not only find copyright-free images on the website, but you can also find a lot of graphic design work that can go towards enhancing your website.
A lot of people turn to Unsplash when they need copyright-free images, and that’s why it is one of the most popular websites for copyright-free images and even videos!
Everyone and their mother has heard of Flickr.
Flickr is perhaps the oldest copyright-free images website. It is not exactly dedicated to that, but it has a lot of high-resolution pictures that you can use as copyright-free images. The best thing about Flickr, in fact, is that it has so many images that you’re unlikely to have to look at another website!
4. Life of Pix
Life of Pix is another website that boasts a large variety of copyright-free photography. They have a public domain of beautiful, public, and free pictures!
If you’re looking for copyright-free videos instead, then you can head over to the sister website called Life of Vids, which offers an equally impressive range of copyright-free videos.
Another image repository is Pixabay. The way that this website works is by integrating an image from other image hosting sites – so more or less, it gathers copyright-free images from other websites. And it presents you with a small selection of photos for your search term that can be used without any legal repercussions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is copyright?
Copyright is a legal term that relates to the rights creators have over their original works.
What can be protected using copyright?
Literary works, computer programs, databases, films, musical compositions, artistic works, architecture, advertisements, and much more.
What rights does the copyright owner have?
Both economic and moral rights.
Do I always need the owner’s permission to use a work protected by copyright?
Short and simple answer: yes.
Copyright infringement is a serious issue with legal consequences. However, for someone who doesn’t have enough knowledge on the subject, it is very easy to infringe copyright without even realizing it!
Luckily, this article covered everything that you need to know about copyright images. So, now you can be safe and only use images that you have permission to use, instead of exposing yourself to unnecessary legal complications. Remember: the key is permission! As long as you can prove that you had the permission to use something, the world is truly your oyster.