Friday, October 4, 2013

Don't Steal Your Graphics

You wouldn't dream of walking into a store, picking up an item, and walking out without paying. Yet people do this every day with online content -- especially graphics. But using images you "find" online is not only stealing, but you could potentially be sued by the owner of the content.

In yesterday's blog post, I recommended Fotolia.com, a website where you can purchase photos, illustrations, cartoons, graphics, and even videos. Depending on what you want to use the graphic or photo for, the cost can be as little as $1 per illustration.

In contrast, if you "borrow" a graphic online without paying for its use (or making sure you have the rights to use the photo), you can be sued for thousands -- even tens of thousands -- of dollars.

Don't think it can happen to you? It happened to my brother-in-law, who is a web designer. He received a demand letter from Getty Images for $1000 because Getty Images had discovered a graphic on the previous version of a website he was working on that they did not show as being licensed to the website's owner. (The illustration in question was on the client's old website; he was revamping the website for the client, but he was the one who received the letter.)

Graphics and Plagiarism
How many times have you heard someone say that, "since it was on the Internet, it's public domain, so I can use it?" I suspect a lot. Well, in case you didn't know, this is not true. Even if some images are available for free online, they are free with limits. It's important to read the fine print to ensure that you don't inadvertently plagiarize someone else's work. In some cases, even when you pay for an image you can still commit a violation if you use it for an other-than-intended purpose.

Graphics and images help make your website, blogs, and other online content stand out. In fact, if you choose images that match the content, it can even make the content more understandable. This is especially true when creating infographics. But, you cannot just take the graphics from any website and use them for any purpose without permission. 

Read the Fine PrintWhen you download a graphic from any place online, whether free or paid, read the fine print. It is likely that much of what you buy or get free on the net cannot be used for producing a "logo" without buying a higher level of rights to the image. When using free images, some sites say that you cannot use it on any product for profit.

Fair Use
There are some exceptions to the basic copyright and plagiarism rules called fair use. Essentially, it's okay to use someone else's work if you transform it enough to make it original. The definition of transformative though, varies with different courts. Or, you simply use the idea of the image to create your own unique image.

For instance, maybe you like a black and white portrait of a baby where the colors pink are highlighted? Then you use that idea to do a family portrait. Or if you are commenting on and reporting on a story and use the image to report on the story, that is fair use.

One thing to remember is that words can be plagiarized but images cannot be. However, you can infringe on someone's copyright when you use images without permission or outside the parameters of legal use described in the fine print of purchased images. Also, there are always exceptions to everything. Be very clear on the differences before you use any image. 

Save yourself the hassle -- and time and money -- by making sure the images you use are properly licensed.

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