The unicorn cat.
FOUND IT! The perfect image for my uber rad new website, A UNICORN CAT! Now, I’ll get a million clicks and my site will go viral. PUBLISH!
Been there? Did you ever ask yourself, can I use that image? Without permission from the owner of that image, the answer to this question is a big fat NO. Unless you want to end up paying potentially thousands of dollars in penalties.
It’s tempting, just sitting there in Internet realm, a mere right click away from “save as,” perched perfectly and ready to be featured on the perfect website. Well, it belongs to someone else. You wouldn’t just take someone’s printer because you needed that, would you? Didn’t think so.
Let’s start with some background information about copyright law….
A copyright is created when an original work is fixed in a tangible means of expression. Original means that it is new and created by the author and not copied. A work refers to a photograph, song, play or several other things. A tangible means of expression means that this work is more than just an idea, it was actually created.
Let’s take a song as an example. A musician may have the perfectly boldest and infectious song – capable of making people forget about “Hello” and “Formation” written in her head. Every night, she may sing it in her apartment with the intent of writing it down or recording it. At this point, the song is not tangible. As soon as this future pop sensation records herself, even if only on her cellphone, the song is fixed into a tangible form. Boom! She now owns that song through copyright.
Registering a copyright provides some advantages such as the right to bring suit and the right to statutory damages and attorney’s fees, but is not necessary.
Regardless of whether it is registered, if someone else decided to go and put that song on their website without her permission, that individual would be violating copyright law. Why? Copyright owners have the exclusive rights to use their own works.
There are some exceptions including using the work for criticism, commentary, teaching, and research to name a few. So, when your eighth grade English teacher copied a few passages and handed them out to you to read, she did not violate copyright because the purpose was educational. If you copied those same passages and pasted those on your blog, you violate the copyright.
Back to that unicorn cat image…
ANY unauthorized use of someone else’s image is a violation of copyright law. This means that if you take an image that you find on the Internet and then, without permission from the owner, post it to your blog or website, you violated copyright law. Even if you posted the image for a millisecond, that is enough to constitute a violation.
Be cautious. Some people plant images on the Internet for the sole purpose of catching people who repost them without permission. Image planters take photos and then optimize the search results so that their image appears at the top of a search page, baiting someone take it. The image planters often use computer programs that search the web for the photo. Then, once an unauthorized copy is found, the image planter takes action. Unauthroized copying may simply include copying and pasting an image to your Facebook or Instagram account. Sharing someone else’s post is a different story, for a different blog post, but generally allowable based on social media platform user agreements.
Copyright law provides statutory damages and attorney’s fees. This means that unlike most other legal actions, even if the creator of an image can’t prove that he was harmed in any way, he is still eligible for damages. The damages can be anywhere from a couple thousand to millions of dollars.
Contact Attorney Leslie Elkins to further discuss the problems with taking images off the internet, copyright law, or unicorn cats. The unicorn cat image was found using a Bing images search, under their “free to share and use commercially” filter.