Borrowing art created by others in your blogs, books, websites, or presentations requires a knowledge of copyright ownership and of what constitutes copyright infringement. Bloggers, web designers, and authors of print or ebooks need to know where to obtain legal copies that are suitable for printing and electronic publications and how to get copyright permission to use them.
Finding an image that works for a specific project often can be easy because there are many great images on the Internet. It is also easy to copy and paste an image without giving the legality of these actions a second thought.
One mistake authors make in borrowing art is to assume because they see an image on Pinterest or someone’s website, it is perfectly legal for them to use it on their own site. They see that these images are already being used by others, often without a credit or a link back to the creator’s site, and often without any indication that permission was obtained. It appears the people posting such images haven’t been discovered or reprimanded for their actions. Anyone seeing this scenario might incorrectly assume that the risk of getting into trouble for borrowing art without permission is non-existent. They may decide to print the images in their book or use them on their website without asking for the right to do so.
Some illegal users may get by without even a warning. Some may be given a warning in the form of a cease-and-desist letter or a DMCA (Digital Media Copyright Act) takedown notice and be allowed to remove the infringing item from distribution without any further legal action against them. Others may not be fortunate enough to receive an early warning before they are subject to a copyright suit.
Fine art images often have copyright attached to them. Many times very old items found published on the Internet will be in the public domain in the US. If the item was published in the US before 1923, it is in the public domain in the US and can be republished in the US without copyright permission. A word of caution here: The key word in the previous statement is published. If the art has not been published, other rules apply to copyright duration.
There are international treaties in force that allow for much cooperation between countries regarding publishing works on foreign soil. However, if publishing content that is not your own in another country, it is wise to determine if somehow it has a copyright attached to it in that country.
If the image is copyright free or permission has been granted, another consideration is the usability of the image—whether or not the image must be changed to fit the need of the borrower. If it is in copyright, a permission must state the intended changes are allowed.
Also, the image resolution for print publications must be taken into account. While this may not in itself always be a copyright issue, acquiring a good image goes hand in hand in the use of public domain items and in the process of clearing copyright for images. There are times when the only image obtainable is not perfect for publishing, but the value of the content to the publication is such that a bad image is better than no image.
These considerations for borrowing art are left up to the self-publisher. Remember, the only decision maker who will take responsibility for illegal or uninformed actions is the self-publisher. This week we have discussed legal issues related to borrowing art created by others. Next week we will offer tips on where to find legal copies with a resolution high enough for print publications and what to expect in terms of fees and limitations on use.
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