Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Copyright, Fair Use, and Online Images

A recent conversation with someone in the Art and Art History department reminded me that confusion over the online use of copyrighted images persists, even among some faculty members. This really comes as no surprise. Copyright is complex, the parameters of fair use are murky, and the fair use of digital images require us to consider elements that didn't exist when the Copyright Act of 1976 was passed. It's a mystifying topic for most of us. Over at the Social Media Examiner, Sara Hawkins has written a very helpful piece, Copyright Fair Use and How it Works for Online Images. As an attorney, Hawkins is well versed on this subject, and here she provides an excellent overview of the issues that we should consider before using others' images online.

While brief, the article does a great job of introducing this complicated subject. After discussing key points about copyright and fair use, Hawkins outlines "5 Things to Think About Before Using Copyrighted Images":
  1. Do you understand the term fair use?
  2. Why are you using the image? 
  3. Have you transformed the image?
  4. How much of the image are you using?
  5. Are you willing to risk your site being taken down, getting a cease and desist/bill/DMCA or being sued?
In summary Hawkins notes,"When it comes to photos, when in doubt, assume it’s subject to copyright and don’t use it without the appropriate permission." Check out the article -- it's rare to find such a straightforward and clear introduction to this topic.

Image: Jason Pettus (jasonpettus), mytatt.jpg, 2007, available from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.


Jason Pettus said...

Great to see one of my images being used this way! (Yes, that's an actual tattoo on my left shoulder.) I'm surprised you didn't mention more about Creative Commons in your blog post here, which is essentially a way for artists to voluntarily circumvent some of the complexities in copyright law you explicitly talk about, by basically giving blanket permission to strangers to use their images for things expressly like this blog post of yours, where simply an illustration is needed and no money is actually being exchanged.

Elaine Paul said...

Hi, Jason. Thanks for the comment and thanks so much for sharing your images via Creative Commons! I'll be sure to head over to Flickr to formally thank you there, which I try to routinely do when I use someone's Flickr image. You are quite right to mention CC licensing in this context. I use CC images on most of my posts, and refer to them on this blog and elsewhere pretty frequently -- trying not to be too repetitious and it is my hope that our primary audience has been listening. But point well taken that CC images generally mean that fair use factors or potential litigation are less of a concern. The nit-picky caveat there is that I have occasionally noticed images that don't appear to be the intellectual property of person who has posted the CC license for them. Hmm, might be a good topic to address here on this blog.