Okay – there are days that I THINK I understand copyright law in educational settings. A former student of mine asked if she could use images that she found using the Google image search if she labeled where they were from. The images would be used in a magazine she wants to produce with school funds. Here is my answer. Did I get it right? I really want to know.
Hi Former Student- (she’s still in high school – I changed divisions)
I know that copyright questions are very confusing. And with so many images out there and with the ease of publishing and downloading, it feels like we should be able to use any of them. But unfortunately, many images are protected by copyright and we need to be aware of and respect the rights of the copyright holder.
There are so many images out in the world that are availabile for reuse. Flickr has 21 MILLION images that are licensed for use under the Creative Commons Share Alike Attribution license http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/by-2.0/
The owners of these photos have all granted permission for reuse and for alteration – all you have to do is give them credit for the original image and agree to share any work you create with their work. You can’t copyright a work based on their work.
The federal government has an enormous photo archive. Anything the federal (not sate or local) government creates is in the public domain. Look at www.loc.gov (the Library of Congress) [TO CLARIFY – not all images at the LOC are in the public domain. If the government produced it, it is – but because the LOC is a repository library, there are things there that they did NOT make. Look in the image description for further information.]
Google allows you to do an advanced image search that allows you to search only images that are labeled for reuse – Look under Usage Rights.
Now, I believe that we should be able to use materials that we find to create new work, and this is the basis of a lot of confusion. How do we define “new.” Is the image used in a way that it was not originally intended? Has it been altered in any way? So take music for example, we can sample someone’s work, loop it, add a new lyric and maybe a counter-melody, and maybe we also change the audience for the original work. So Kanye West gets used in a symphony. This use transforms the original work. They will have ALSO received written permission to use his work.
What about that Red White and Blue HOPE portrait of Obama? The artist is involved in a major Fair Use lawsuit about transformative use http://paidcontent.org/article/419-judge-in-ap-shepard-fairey-fair-use-suit-suggests-settlement/
Even though he gave away 300,000 posters free, AP sued over the use of the photo.
If you want to use copyrighted images, you need to contact the owner of the image and get permission from them. Now, do I think that a wire service is going to come and find you if you use a copyrighted image? Probably not – you are small potatoes, but, like all other decisions like this we decide what to do based on what is right not what is expedient. What is the correct thing to do is not based on whether you are a student giving this out for free, it is based on what is right and fair to the artist who created the work.
- So, if you are using copyrighted images to illustrate a story, then it is a clear case of copyright violation no matter if you cite the photographer and owner of the image, unless you have written permission to use the image from the owner.
- Did you take a bunch of images and mash them up, change them in photoshop, create art of them? That is less clear. I’d say then you are in clear Fair Use territory. I would still seek permission to use the images.
- Are you writing about reality television? You could use images from reality shows as long as they are illustrating a point you are making in your story and not just used to attract readers (eye candy). This is using the images as texts that you are analyzing.
I really believe that art should be freely shared. Creating art implies a relationship with the reader/viewer/listener, and that experience is important. But I do not adjudicate copyright law. If an image is owned by an artist or corporate entity, and your use is to illustrate and not analyze, then it would seem to be a basic violation of copyright law.
I’m sure that this begs more questions than it answers, but I hope that it helps. And in the words of my friend and fabulous artist, M.C. Mantz – Be original, or ask permission!