This past week I found myself explaining to two different people why they could not use a photo they found on Google Images in their content marketing. The misperception both people had was, if they found it on Google then it must be free of copyright restrictions. After conducting an informal poll, it is clear that an image copyright refresher course would be helpful to any organization looking for photos to enhance their content.
Before we begin, this is where I say, “I’m not an attorney and the following is not to be construed as legal advice.” It is only my understanding based on research that I have done.
Misperception #1 - Photos found on Google Images are okay to use, and you do not have to seek permission or credit anyone.
The answer to this one is easy. That statement is false. Almost any image that has appeared on the web can be found on Google Images. Google Images is not a stock photo repository; it is a search engine. You must determine who holds the copyright of the image (this is usually the artist or photographer unless they have sold that copyright to someone else) and contact them for permission or rights to use the image.
Misperception #2 - I can use any photo, however I want, if I found it on a Creative Commons site like Flickr.
This statement is mostly false. The artist still owns the copyright, however, they are giving you “license” to use their image through Creative Commons. How you can use the image depends on the particular license they offer. Some artists give you carte blanche. You can use it commercially, with no attribution required, and can even modify the image to suit your purposes. Other artists have a few restrictions. They may allow you to use the photo, as is with no changes, as long as you credit the artist and are not using it in commercial work.
Some artists choose to waive their interest in their work and put it in the public domain. In which case, have at it and feel free to use it any way you would like.
Misperception #3 - If the photo or image does not have a copyright notice on it, it is free to use.
This statement is also mostly false. As of March 1, 1989, once a work is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” (written down, recorded, photographed, etc.) it is protected under the Copyright Act. The creator of the work does not have to do a single thing. Once the photograph has been taken, the photographer owns the copyright automatically. Before 1989, things get a bit trickier, but the fact that the photo or image does not have a copyright notice embedded in it does not mean it is not protected. It just means you need to do a bit more research.
So, where then can you find free photos to use as a part of your content? I wrote about this a while back and included seven of my favorite image sites. Just be sure to follow the licensing rules listed.
I hope this clears up some of the confusion. If you are worried that you won’t remember all this, Curtis Newbold, aka TheVisualCommunicationGuy.com, came out with a handy printable flow chart that can help you answer the question, “Can I use that picture?”