Non Copyrighted Images: Why Use Them

Images are being used every day by people for different purposes but mainly they are used to improve and make text-based documents more visually attractive. Images are multifunctional; you can use them anywhere to increase the appeal of any text-based article. Pictures can be placed in presentations, reports, projects, websites and blogs.  However, using images from the internet is not as easy as it may seem. This is because many people are not aware that most images are protected by copyright laws; the only way around this is to use non copyrighted images. In other words, a person requires permission to use any copyrighted image, any blogger requires permission to be allowed to use the image in the same form or has to adapt it.  Understanding the laws for using images can be difficult. This is because there is wiggle room within the laws. And, with the mass distribution of images on the internet, it’s no wonder we’re all asking the same question over and over again: can I use that picture? 


Understanding Copyright


Copyright is primarily a legal right given to the authors of “original works of authorship” as a type of protection. The work may include fictional, dramatic, musical, artistic, or other certain intellectual work. Copyright is usually created by the law of the country. This law provides the author with special rights for the use and distribution of his/her original work. The author is also allowed to give away or sell those rights if they wish. This is mainly how many professionals (for example professional photographers) earn money, by selling rights to their work. This also means that no one is allowed to use a copyrighted work without the permission of its own author. However, the exclusive rights are not unconditional; they are restricted by limitations and exceptions to copyright law, including its fair use. Also, the right is not permanent and is only granted for a limited time. Exclusive rights include four main things that the copyright holder has the right to do; he/she is able to duplicate the copyrighted work, present the copyrighted work in public, organize derivative works created on the copyrighted work, as well as sell, rent or lend copies of the copyrighted work to the public to show the image.


Copyright Vs. Trademark

Copyright vs Trademark Logos
Copyright vs Trademark Logos

As mentioned before, copyright protects original work (i.e., literary, artistic, musical or dramatic work). In other words, copyright keeps any original work from being copied, plagiarized or misused without permission. A disadvantage of copyrighting your material is that it expires after a certain time, making it available to the public.

While both offer intellectual property protection, they protect different types of assets. Copyright is geared toward literary and artistic works, such as books and videos. A trademark protects items that help define a company brand, such as its logo.

Meanwhile, trademarks protect smaller original work. The protection of words, symbols or logos distinguishes the company or manufacturer from others; this indicates the source of the merchandise or goods.

On the other hand, since copyrighting is not applicable to small items, (i.e., words, phrases, symbols). Trademarks can be used to protect the right of words, phrases, symbols, logos or designs. A benefit of trademarks is that they do not expire; if you trademark your work, it is yours for life. However, unlike copyright, trademarks require registration through the trademark operations office.

Another benefit of trademarks is that you are allowed to use the TM sign to show the public your original work. However, using the TM symbol with registration is illegal and punishable by fines and even jail time.

Famous examples of trademarked company logos and slogans include:

  • McDonald’s golden arches
  • Nike’s “Just Do it” slogan
  • Apple’s bitten apple logo
  • Lacoste’s crocodile
  • Amazon’s arrow pointing from A to Z signifying the wide selection they offer.


Copyright Limitations

A major limitation on copyright is that it only protects the expression of thoughts, but not the underlying ideas themselves. In other words, copyright is only capable of protecting work that is set into a certain form. In addition, copyright law does not protect any work that is too small or short to be distinctive for instance: labels, phrases, headings and sentences. However, a person must keep in mind that using short phrases that is related to a certain trademark may result in a violation of patent and trademark laws.

Another limitation of copyright is that it is not permanent.  Expiration of copyright is made after a period of time that is determined based on the nature of the work. For instance, any work created during or after 1978 is eligible for the life of the author plus seventy years before it expires. Regarding works of corporate authorship, the duration is 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter. After the expiration of a copyrighted work, it is considered in the public domain; part of the cultural heritage and is not subject to any copyright restrictions. In other words, anyone can use this work for both commercial and non-commercial advantage.


Comparing Non-Copyrighted Images and Copyrighted  images

A copyrighted image is an image that is owned and legally protected to its author and cannot be used by any other person unless it is altered or used according to the fair use doctrine. Copyright protection is granted to the creator of any image automatically once it is created. Many people think that images on the internet are non-copyrighted/ free images which is not the case. Any image on the internet may (or may not) be copyrighted and thus a person will need a license in order to use it. For an image to be free, the copyright holder must specifically state that the image is free to be used by anyone for any purpose.

On the other hand, non-copyrighted images, also known as public domain image, are defined as a picture, clip art or vector whose either copyright has terminated or did not exist from the start. Non copyrighted images can be used by anyone for both personal and commercial intentions.


How to Use a Copyrighted Image

A major recommendation is that if a person is in doubt or needs reassurance, it is always best to obtain permission.  However, there are limited conditions when the person will not need permission. First, if the image you are using is in the public domain. Also, a person may use an image without permission if the copyright holder has stated that the image is free to use. Those authors usually dedicate their work to the public domain

Moreover, several websites like Wikimedia Commons, SpaceX, Every Stock Photo, JÉSHOOTS, and Public Domain Pictures provide people with images that can be downloaded for their personal use for instance: background wallpapers. However, they will prohibit the use of those images for commercial purposes (for example images placed on business cards, websites, or posters). These websites are protected under Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that delivered numerous licenses related to copyright law. The licenses are known as Creative Commons licenses and permit the authors of works (including images) to state which rights they reserve, and which rights they want to abandon for the benefit of receivers or other authors. However, some limitations may include if an image can be used for personal or commercial intentions as well whether the professional photographer requires credit or not. The most common license is an Attribution license. This license allows anyone to use an image in any way possible provided that they give the author credit.


Downsides to Using Non-Copyrighted Images

Without a doubt, using a non-copyrighted image is much easier and requires no charge compared to a copyrighted image. However, there are certain disadvantages that come with using non-copyrighted images. First, some of the non-copyrighted images can have poor quality compared to the copyrighted ones. Other high-quality non-copyrighted images may be very common. Also, their effectiveness may be weakened the more times you see an image appearing in diverse places. Moreover, suppliers of non-copyrighted images are usually do not have checkup processes in place. Consecutively, this can increase the possibility of a disagreement arising.


Fair Use of Copyrighted Images

Fair use is usually mistaken for free use which is very different areas. Fair use is a legal omission to the exclusive rights a holder owns for his or her copyrighted work. The main aim of the fair use is to permit restricted and rational uses for the copyrighted work considering that the user does not affect the holder’s rights or hinder their right to do with the work what they want. In addition, it allows for uses that will benefit society and the public good.  In order to know if the use of a particular image is fair use or not four factors should be considered:

  • First and most importantly, the aim and character of the use should be examined. If the use is for education, non-profit, commentary, criticism or news-related purposes then it is considered fair use. However, commercial use is the opposite.
  • Second, the nature of the copyrighted work; certain work including imaginary and unpublished work acquire a higher level of copyright protection compared to works that are real and broadly existing.
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used. Regarding fair use, it is better to use a small share of a certain work that shall be considered very small with respect to the whole work. However, this factor has some exceptions for works that cannot easily be broken down like images/ photos.
  • Last but not least, the result of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Fair use favours the use that had either a positive effect or an insignificant negative effect.


Obtaining Non-Copyrighted Images

As mentioned earlier, there are numerous websites that offer non-copyrighted images for instance: public domain licensed creative commons or inexpensive stock images. Therefore, no one would need to use a copyrighted image for enhancing their site or making their presentation more visually appealing. Don’t be afraid to use images. The information above should help you make good decisions when searching for your next image.


The Truth about Using Images

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about how you can use images online. Many people think that because an image has been published online then they are free to use it. However, this is not true. Most pictures online are copyrighted. Copyright is legal protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” automatically once the work is created.  In other words, regarding images, the second a person takes a photo, they own the copyright to it.  Therefore, a copyrighted image is an image that is owned and legally protected to its holder and cannot be used by any other person unless it is altered or used according to the fair use doctrine. On the other hand, non-copyrighted images are any pictures, clip art or vector whose either copyright has terminated or did not exist from the start.

In general, when it comes to images, it is better to assume that the image is copyrighted whenever in doubt. Thus, permission from the creator/ author will be needed to use the image. However, if you are not willing to take permission then make sure that the image you are about to take is a non-copyrighted image and that it fits clearly into one of the protected drives.

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