So you think you have a good reason/excuse to use a photo you found on the Internet without asking the photographer who took it? Let’s see if it can stand the test.
1. There was no “copyright” logo or any other watermark on the photo
Copyrights exist by default. As soon as an amateur or professional photographer hits the shutter button, all the power of the copyright law is now associated with the photo. Therefore, a photographer does not have to specify on the photo or on his website that the photo is protected by copyright. Unless specified otherwise, consider a photo as copyrighted.
2. The photo is on the Internet, therefore it is free to use!
Is a photo easy to copy when it’s on the Internet? Yes. Does a photo lose its copyright status when it’s uploaded on the Internet? No.
A photo does not magically fall into the public domain when it’s uploaded to the Internet. The photographer keeps his copyright and, depending of the country, his photo will remain copyrighted between 50 to 70 years after his death. Only after that will it fall on the public domain.
3. I found it on Google Image, therefore it is free to use.
Google Image is not a free stock photo agency. Google does not owns any photos showed as a result of your search. Google’s job is to find images that fit your search query. Someone else own the photos and the copyrights.
4. It’s on Facebook, and everything on Facebook is on public domain.
Contrary to the common belief, a photographer does not lose his copyright when a photo is uploaded on Facebook. Facebook Term of Service says:
You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook
So can you share a photo posted on Facebook? Usually, but under certain conditions. Facebook Term of Service says:
you can control how [your photo] is shared through your privacy and application settings.
That means a photo on Facebook can be shared by another user only by using the “share” button and only if the photographer allows it from his privacy setting. You cannot save it on your computer and use it anywhere else on Facebook or the Internet.
5. But I won’t make money off this photo! It’s just for [my blog / my personal website / my Facebook]
Making money or not does not change a thing. It is still a copyright violation. Here in Canada, Copyright law states that statutory damages will be between $100 and $5,000 per photo if used in a non-commercial purpose (it would be $500 to $20,000 per photo if used commercially). You think you will never get sued for using a photo on a non-commercial website? Think again. It is unlikely, but it IS possible.
6. There was the photographer’s [logo / name / email address] watermarked on the photo. If he put it there, it was so he can advertise his business when we share his photo, right?
No. Just… No….
7. This photo is not [good looking enough / original enough] to be protected by the copyright law.
Photograph a white paper sheet on a white table during a snow storm with your iPhone. This photo will be just as protected by copyright law as the last celebrity portrait of Annie Leibovitz shot with $200,000 of equipment.
8. I appear in this photo, therefore I can use it!
This seems logical, but no. Legally, the photographer has the copyright on this photo because he took it. The photograph is HIS artistic interpretation of you.
So if you were photographed when you weere part of a protest, a sport event or if you were the subject of his street photography, you need to ask the photographer first before using it.
Of course, if you hired a photographer to do, for instance, your business portrait, he likely gave you the license to use it. However, the photographer keeps the copyright.
9. I wrote the photographer’s name under the photo on my webpage. It’s good advertising for him!
In 7 years of doing photography professionally, never has someone called to hire me, stating that he saw my name under a random photo he stumbled onto on the Internet.
Copyright law includes the notion of “monopoly of economic exploitation” of a photo. Only the owner of the copyright can decide how the photo will be used. Doing “advertisement” for the photographer is both not a valid or legal reason to use a photo without first asking the photographer. Especially since it is legally mandatory in most countries to put a photo credit under a photo, even when you pay for the license to use it.
10. Millions of people are doing it!
This argument is invalid. Unless of course you can point me out the article of law that tells exactly how many people doing something illegal is needed to make that act legal.
All of that said… Is it possible to police the web and stop every copyright infringement? No. It is technologically impossible to stop someone from lifting your photos, and I would need three lives to sue every infringers. Let’s put it this way: if you see an unattended bike in a park, would you decide not to steal it because you fear of getting caught, or because you know it is morally wrong? If it’s the former, I can’t help you. If it’s the later, maybe this post will change your perceptions of how “we” should use photos on the Internet.
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