Images on the Internet: Who owns the copyright?

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Copyright in any literary, artistic, dramatic or cinematographic work comes into effect when the work is created. So if one takes a photograph or paints a picture, for all purposes the copyright begins from the time the work is created irrespective of its artistic quality. One can scribble on a paper and have copyright over that work! Would that person have any objection if someone else used their work on a social media platform or a blog they wrote? That’s where the law comes into play. In this post, I’ll be discussing issues relating to use of copyrighted images, how to ensure it is available to use, means to protect it and instances when the use of copyrighted works amount to fair use.

Check if it is available for use

Let’s assume that Person Z has a blog and passionately writes about the myriad events happening in his life and around the world and posts pictures along with it to make it the blog more eye-catching. Firstly, it is important to understand that every image found on the internet will have certain rights attached to it, unless it has been surrendered or expired. The best way to find out is to check using Google’s usage rights which can be found under Google Images. There are different categories of usage rights, so depending on the category one’s work comes under, such rights can be chosen. But sometimes it doesn’t end there. It’s always better to open the image and check for rights. Sometimes, it may so happen that the work requires credits to be mentioned or source to be quoted.

In short, the different options that are available are – labelled for use, use with modification, for non-commercial use and for non-commercial use with modification. As mentioned earlier, checking the image directly for specific rights to ensure what kind of use is allowed is advisable.

Images on the Internet

Ways to protect your copyright on the internet

There’s no denying that most of us have used pictures available on the internet on social media and blogs or websites without giving these rights too much thought. But we tread with caution when there’s a watermark or a © symbol or a signature of the creator, the reason being that we believe there are legal rights attached to it and therefore the fear of violating it. Or it could be simply because the picture is not appealing because of the watermark or the signature of somebody else! Some of the techniques that can be used to protect copyright on the internet are:

a)     Use the © symbol

b)    Adding a watermark (name or company name) will enable people to identify the work as yours

c)     As an artist if you’re willing to license the rights or give permission, clarify that on the website

d)    Using techniques to prevent people from downloading images (available on a number of sites)

Claiming “Personal Use” or “free availability in the public” is not OKAY

There are two misconceptions about copyrights (definitely many more) that I can think of in this context. One is that using it for personal purpose amounts to fair use and the other is that using content available on public domain will not amount to copyright infringement. Without getting into the legalities of Section 52 of the Act which deals with fair use, every personal use of a copyright is not necessarily fair use. Therefore, it’s not necessary that the commercial aspect or profit from use of copyright needs to come into play for it to be copyright infringement. Using the copyright without permission or using the copyright per se without paying heed to the usage details or the rights vested in the owner, may amount to infringement in some cases. Some of the instances of fair use as provided under Section 52 are:

  • Criticism or review of a work
  • Reporting of current events
  • Reproduction of work by a teacher in the course of teaching or examination or any educational purpose. However, in reference to this point, using of copyrighted images in a school magazine which is distributed free of cost to the students, may not come under the ambit of fair use as it is not restricted to educational purposes.

Conclusion

Copyright law has always sought to strike a balance between individual and public interests. Just like we’d like everyone to respect our work and not copy or use it as they wish, we should do the same. As philosophical as that may sound, that’s how we’ll find the balance. So till the law says ‘Use and let use’, copyright law shall prevail!

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