A recent news piece from ABC Australia highlights the legal troubles people can get into when reusing images found on the web. Photographers can take legal action against infringers of their works, from social media users to large commercial enterprises.
The internet is a place where business and pleasure co-exist. People simultaneously earn their livelihoods and play here. But when it comes to copyright that distinction is irrelevant. As we’ve discussed previously works communicated on the internet are protected by copyright. Creators of those works enjoy all the exclusive rights given to them by copyright law. Some creators indicate that they are exercising that right by using the © symbol. Regardless, their work is generally protected automatically.
Importantly, though, many creators, including photographers, are happy to allow free sharing and re-use under certain conditions. Using images that are clearly released under a Creative Commons licence provide a simple way to avoid potential legal problems.
Too hard or just lazy?
Given that there are millions of images available for re-use under CC licences on the internet why are re-users infringing copyright?
Let’s consider one of the photos featured in the ABC news piece.This exquisite image was re-used on Facebook without the copyright owner’s permission. The owner, Sheila Smart, asked Facebook to take down the image- which they did.
If I think before I re-use, how quick and easy is it to figure out the conditions under which I might re-use the image? Let’s see. The starting point is always to assume this image is protected by copyright…
The ABC reproduction shows an embedded watermark on the image that clearly shows the copyright position “© Sheila Smart”. Google “Sheila Smart” takes me to Sheila Smart Photography. The results list shows that Sheila Smart is happy to provide a license – but at a cost.
Hypothetically, let’s say the image I found on the internet was devoid of copyright information. My next step is to do an image search. A Google Image search reveals that this image has been reproduced many times. I found it impossible to identify the copyright owner. Importantly, though, this does not mean it is free to re-use. In general terms, unless an image is extremely old, it is safest to assume that it is protected by copyright and you may not reuse it without permission.
The safest way to find images that you are legally entitled to reuse is to look for those that have been freely licensed in advance.