Monday, April 24, 2017

Can I Use That Image? - Copyright 101

copyrightThere is often a great deal of confusion or misunderstanding about the use of images for web publishing. Obviously when presenting a site the use of pictures and graphics is vital, otherwise you might as well simply publish sheet after sheet of boring text. (A truly great designer can find ways around this though) That being said, there are many pitfalls to simply collecting images and re-purposing them for your own site's use.

Copyright is a hot topic these days, as the age of self publishing has changed the way information now flows, and flies, across the world. Understanding the basics of image use is a good thing, as it can potentially save you headaches in the form of cease/desist orders or worse... actual law suits.

It's very easy to simply download an image off a website, most of the time right-clicking will allow you do so. The nature of web publishing has changed the way copyright laws now treat 'publishing' or 'display' … traditionally tied to physical publishing, which made it much harder to actually copy an image.

It may not be obvious to some people, but if you didn't originally take the picture, you probably don't own the rights to the image. Copyright begins for digital images from the moment the image is stored on an SD card, and extends under current law for 70 years after the author's death. (For works made for hire, that period is longer: 120 years from the date of creation, or 95 years from the date of first publication) Suffice it to say that any image you see out there is probably copy-written in some way, either directly owned and controlled, or licensed out in a limited way for use and distribution.  BUT there is a third case:  they can also be in the public domain – free for everyone to use.

Copyright has many aspects to it, but its (flexibility) is that it recognizes and confers upon copyright owners not just one exclusive right, but a series of exclusive rights. These rights have a direct bearing on how images are used and controlled on the internet.

U.S. copyright law currently enumerates four rights which are directly relevant here:

  • the right to make copies of the image
  • the right to distribute copies of the image publicly by various means (generally, through sales or licensing)
  • the right to publicly display the image
  • the right to create derivative works based upon the image

If you AREN'T the copyright holder, then you do not have the legal right to use an image on your site, reuse it for any of your publicity materials, sell or re-license it for use in any commercial way (merchandise), or use parts or the whole in any other type of image or graphic.

Don't want to have to worry at all about the images you use? Then it's best to seek out and only use 'royalty-free' or public domain photos and images. Doing a search on Google Images will probably return a lot of different pictures for you, including many from private sites and image collections. It's best to always assume that anything on someone else's site is under copyright protection.  'Royalty Free' stock images can be found on many of the commercial sites in special sections, or can simply be searched for using Google or Bing.  Using the 'Advanced Search' in Google, choose the licensing type to filter on 'usage rights.'

Buying images from vendors like or Getty Images is another option. You pay for the size and resolution you need and they grant you a limited license for use, which in the simplest form allows you to use the image on your site. There are many sites available for images, clip art, iconography, fonts, etc. I've included a short list at the end of this article for your convenience. If you want a basic license to cover yourself and want something more specialized than what's available for EVERYONE this is probably the best way to go. Images can run anywhere from $5 on up. Generally if you are working with a designer or contractor they will handle the image acquisition for you, and hopefully will keep everything on the straight and narrow in terms of licensing and copyright.

You can always shoot all your own content. This will give you the rights to use the images in whatever capacity you like... but depending on your skill/equipment/time this could either turn out great, or be a waste.

Some commercial sites for stock photography

ShutterStock -

IStock Photography






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Web Design & Programming

New Orleans, LA
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