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Copyright Fair Use And Can I Use Online Images?

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Copyright Fair Use And Can I Use Online Images?

“A picture is worth a thousand words”, everyone has heard the old saying. Now, in the social network age, a picture is worth a few hundred likes, some +1’s, a handful of retweets, stumbles, tumbles, pins, and shares of all sorts. We have all used an online images but are not sure if its legal and ethical right to do so? Understanding the laws for using images can be a bit tricky, especially because there is jiggle room within the laws.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding these days about how you can use images online. Lots of people think that because creative content, like a photo, an article has been published on the Internet then they are free to use it. This simply isn’t true.

Copyright infringement doesn’t consider whether you were given credit. Copyright infringement can still occur even if the source, author, or copyright-holder is cited. Plagiarism only occurs if someone is trying to pass off your work as their own.

Plagiarism is an ethical concern that may have other elements of intellectual property theft tied with it. Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is illegal and carries with it potentially significant consequences.

Rules about copyright of images and photos?

Copyright is a form of legal protection that is automatically assigned to content creators at the moment of creation. In other words, the moment you take a photograph, you own the copyright to it. You don’t have to register it with a special organisation, you don’t have to fill in a form or add a legal notice to the image. The rights to use, amend or sell that image are yours and yours alone.

The reality is, though, as long as you become familiar with four terms copyrightfair usecreative commons, and public domain you’ll have a pretty good idea what you can and can’t do with images. If it’s all new to you, spend most of your time educating yourself on fair use clauses. That’s where the uncertainty in copyright laws exist. As with most laws, the ambiguity is for our benefit, but it sure can make copyright laws fuzzy at times.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement can occur when using someone else’s copyrighted work without permission or without a solid fair use case, and is a legal matter handled by the courts.

The Copyright Act grants five rights to a copyright owner:

  1. The right to reproduce the copyrighted work.
  2. The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work.
  3. The right to distribute copies of the work to the public.
  4. The right to perform the copyrighted work publicly.
  5. The right to display the copyrighted work publicly.

Fair Use

Fair use provisions of Zimbabwe copyright law allow use of copyrighted materials on a limited basis for specific purposes without the permission of the copyright holder.

Fair use is one of the limitations to copyright intended to balance the interests of copyright holders with the public interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works by allowing certain limited uses that might otherwise be considered infringement.

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Creative commons

Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.[2] The organization has released several copyright-licenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public. These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators.

Creative Commons licensing is inspired by open source and the GNU Project approach to software licensing. With Creative Commons licensing you can give away all rights to your work, or just some of them. The site has an online form that helps you to configure exactly which of your rights you want to give away.

All current CC licenses (except the CC0 Public Domain Dedication tool) require attribution, which can be inconvenient for works based on multiple other works.

Public domain

The term public domain has two senses of meaning. Anything published is out in the public domain in the sense that it is available to the public. Once published, news and information in books is in the public domain, although they may also be copyrighted.

In the sense of intellectual property, works in the public domain are those whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable.

With public domain images you’re free to use them in any way and in most cases you don’t have to provide attribution. Check the terms of the site to decide if attribution is required and, if so, follow the requested format.

What To Do If Your Work Has Been Stolen

You can issue a “cease and desist” or a DMCA takedown for an image used in their website.  DMCA is actually short for Digital Millennium Copyright Act and it is a group of laws that protect copyrighted content on digital mediums.

The DMCA Takedown Notice provides a mechanism for copyright holders to request an Internet Service Provider (ISP), search engine, host or other type of site-owner/manager to remove material that is infringing their copyright. Unlike other aspects of copyright laws, the DMCA Takedown process does not require you to have a registered copyright.

But if you really have to have that image, ask first. You’d be surprised at how many people would gladly grant permission for use of their images.


Pardon has been a technology enthusiast his entire life and has spent the better part of last decades in information technology and security, and he writes with an aim to remove some of the "mysticism" from the cyber world. He’s the Editor at Techunzipped. Away from the keyboard, you're likely to find him playing with the latest gadgets or the latest Game.

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