I found an image on the Internet, so I can use it on my website and brochure, right?
Wrong. Just because you have Internet access and the ability to download or capture images from a web page doesn’t make it legal.
I’m promoting a customer appreciation event at the Bucs game, so I can use the team logo and a few player photos, right?
Wrong. Just because you’re associating your event with a sports franchise doesn’t give you the right to use the team’s trademark and celebrity likeness without permission.
It’s okay if I just use an image for my blog, right?
Wrong. Just because it’s a blog and not an ad doesn’t mean licensing rules don’t apply.
The Internet has created an environment in which many people assume it’s okay to save an image off the web and use it for commercial purposes. They also assume nobody will notice.
These assumptions could get you into serious trouble.
Any image used for commercial purposes must be properly licensed from the owner. Commercial use is broadly defined as anything directly or indirectly related to financial gain. Advertising, websites, packaging, merchandise for sale, and imagery within software and games are obvious examples of commercial use. But the concept also extends to your company blog, things you offer for free, and even pro bono work that enhances your reputation.
Don’t think you won’t get caught using an unlicensed image — copyright owners can use software to “fingerprint” and track their images, even if only part of the image is being used or the image has been edited. And even if a third party created your website, ad, etc. that uses an unlicensed image, your company will be liable in the event of a copyright infringement claim.
Copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is used without permission of the creator or copyright holder. If you use all or part of an image, edit the image, or duplicate the image without permission, this is considered copyright infringement. Legal action could result in monetary damages.
Some people make the mistake of equating “royalty-free” with the ability to use an image however they want, as often as they want, at no charge. In reality, royalty-free means that you can use an image multiple times without paying royalties or fees for each use, but you still have to pay the initial licensing fee.
When you license an image, you have to use it according to the terms of the license. Failure to do so constitutes infringement. Keep in mind that many stock image providers have different types of image licenses depending on how you plan to use the image. For example, many stock image providers require users to buy an extended license if an image is used in more than 500,000 print copies, on products for resale, or on digital templates for resale. They also prohibit the use of their stock images for certain purposes regardless of the license you buy.
You may have heard of a Creative Commons license, which allows content creators to determine which rights they are willing to waive so others can use their images. Most Creative Commons licenses require attribution (listing the author’s name, the title of the work and if possible a link to the source), and all require a link to the license. Many do not allow commercial use.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the end-user to determine how an image can be legally used. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to assume nothing is free, and always read your license agreements. If you’re not sure about proper commercial use of an image, consider having the license agreement reviewed by an attorney.
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