Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Want to get sued?

Picture by Editor at Large
Of course you don't. Now don't get me wrong -- everyone likes a heist movie, and who doesn't want to outrun "the fuzz" in an epic car chase? But getting busted for copyright infringement? That's just boring.

I only mention it because of a happenstance learning opportunity that hit me today. I'm a teaching assistant for a communication law class and the topic of copyright came up in this morning's class. Also, in today's teaching with tech course, we discussed using images and other content in blogs and the notion of "giving credit where credit is due."

Turns out that's not enough. According to U.S. copyright law, original work fixed in a tangible medium (including what appears on the Web) may be protected. This means it can't be used without permission of the copyright holder -- or until the work falls into the public domain.

Interestingly, I just noticed today that Google Images displays the following warning each time you search: "Images may be subject to copyright."

Since Google passes the buck onto the user, it may not be your best bet for image searches. There are several sites that offer (mostly) copyright-free work or work you can reuse simply by attributing the work. Wikimedia Commons and FreeFoto are two pretty good ones, but there are a lot more.

Let me know if you guys find anything good. As a prior copyright offender I'm looking to repent.


  1. Excellent observations - I like to use the Google advanced search to find images licensed under Creative Commons, and I like morguefile.com as well. This isn't a topic that is fun to talk about, but it is important to understand that even though we can easily save and use images or video from the web, it's not always our right to do so.

  2. I read somewhere that as long as an image is used in education, you're good. So though you're right about using images in blogs, if you give a lecture, do some outreach, or borrow from the internet for a conference presentation, you're good. At least that's something.

  3. Virginia, I believe you're referring to fair use doctrine, which allows for the use of some copyrighted material for purposes such as news, criticism, parody, or education -- to name a few. While noncommercial education qualifies for fair use, other issues like the nature of the work, the amount of the work used, and the effect use would have on the work's market-value come into play for fair use to apply. Some educational ventures fall under fair use, but I'm leery of the fair use defense. Even posting journal articles to sites like Blackboard and ELC have been suspect in some instances, which is kind of scary.