Where do you obtain your images? Are the illustrations or photographs created by fellow employees or independent creators? Are they images you find online, or in a print book or perhaps a magazine article?
You need to consider if you’re legally using images on blogs, in course materials and elsewhere. Below are tips to help mitigate your chances of infringing the intellectual property rights of any copyright owners when using their images. You may also like our online copyright course that includes a 10-lesson module on Legally Using Images.
Are You Legally Using Images?
More and more we’re using images to enhance text-based documents, annual reports, websites and blogs. As a universal rule, most images are protected by copyright laws around the world and you need permission to use the image as is, or to adapt it. Let’s look at some of the specifics surrounding this general rule.
You may be interested in Legally Using Images in Libraries.
Legally Using Images under the U.S. Copyright Act
The definition of how you define an image may vary. The U.S. Copyright Act defines images as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” and defines these works to include:
two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans.
So illustrations, photographs, charts and the like are all protected by copyright.
The full range of rights attach to owners of these works. The owner of copyright has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize the following:
- Reproduce the image
- Prepare new images and other works based on the original image
- Distribute copies of the image to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
- Display the image in public
Legally Using Images on Blogs
Does the use of an image on your blog require permission?
Certainly, if the image is part of the design of your blog and/or repetitively used or adapted for your use, you need permission to use the image. If the image is part of a particular posting in a blog, you need to apply the fair use factors and determine on a case-by-case basis whether your use requires permission.
You may also be interested in the article 6 Essential Tips for Legally Using Images.
Course Materials and Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard
When do you have to be concerned, copyright-wise, about using images in course materials and learning management systems?
Learning material is often enhanced with images. In a corporate setting, the application of fair use to using images in course materials (especially repeated use of those materials) would be less acceptable, whereas the one-time/one-semester use of an image in a university course may more likely be considered fair use.
Do You Always Need To Obtain Permission?
Those familiar with fair use know that it’s always up to a court of law to determine its applicability in any one situation. As such, if you need reassurance or are in doubt, it’s always best to obtain permission.
There are a few circumstances when you don’t need permission; for example:
- If the image you’re using is in the public domain, including a U.S. federal government image. Note that not all government works are in the public domain. The U.S. government can own copyright when a non-government employee (e.g., consultant) assigns rights to it. Click here for more information about copyright and U.S. government works.
- The copyright owner has clearly (and reliably) stated that you may freely use the image without obtaining permission
- The image has a Creative Commons (CC) license. Read that license! Does it specifically allow your use of the image? What do the terms and conditions of the CC license permit and is your use within those parameters?
Start thinking about your best practices to lower copyright risks and how you can incorporate information in this article into your daily work.
Additional Rights to Consider When Legally Using Images
In the U.S., the creator of a work of visual art has additional rights set out in the Copyright Act. These moral rights grant an artist the right to have their name on their work and to prevent modifications that may be prejudicial to their reputation or honor.
A work of visual art is
a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author
a still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only, existing in a single copy that is signed by the author, or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author.
This doesn’t include a
poster, map, globe, chart, technical drawing, diagram, model, applied art, motion picture or other work, book, magazine, newspaper, periodical, data base, electronic information service, electronic publication, or similar publication
or any work for hire (i.e., work made in the course of employment duties).
When Do Moral Rights Come Into Play?
You need to consider moral rights when, for example, you’re doing any of the following:
- Changing a photograph from color to black and white
- Manipulating a digital drawing
- Omitting the artist’s name from a print or drawing
However, in most countries outside the U.S., authors of all copyright-protected works — such as photographs, drawings, business documents and computer — software all enjoy moral rights. Thus, when using images on websites or blogs, you should respect the moral rights of attribution and integrity. This is because authors have moral rights in countries where their works are accessed (if that country grants moral rights).
For a deeper understanding of this topic, see our online course Legally Using Images.
For more in-depth information about the principles of U.S. and global copyright law,
plus practical strategies and tools you can adapt to your particular circumstances,
see our Copyright Leadership Certificate.