Basic Training: Online Images–Can I Use ‘Em?

Posted on June 8, 2015 in IP & Social Media

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A wise tax attorney colleague of mine once said, “Tax deductible does not mean ‘free.’ ” Likewise, fat-free does not mean calorie-free.  And freely viewable (online) does not mean you can freely take it and use it for your own purposes.

This week’s Basic Training query wonders if it’s OK to take images found on a Google Image search. The short answer:  No.  Even if the photo was on a not-for-profit website? Still no. Even if the site is for a good cause (hey, they’re not-for-profts–they don’t care about money, do they? No.  Even if I want to use it in connection with a good cause?  No, no and no.  You may not use that image.  Not without permission.

Just because you find an image online doesn’t mean that the owner is giving up all intellectual property rights to it . . . and the right to determine how the photo is used is a privilege of the owner/creator of the image.  Although there are some exceptions to this rule, you’re on safest ground if you contact the owner, describe the use you plan to make of the photo (website only? Brochures? Slides at a gala event?) and ask for permission (get it in writing!).  The owner may ask for compensation.

If you’d rather not (or can’t) pay, then look for shareware or royalty-free images (although you’ll likely have to pay a nominal fee there, too).  Otherwise, you risk finding yourself on the wrong end of a copyright-infringement lawsuit.

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