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Updated by Josh E. Saltz on Nov 22, 2017
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Slow Down Before You Right Click

It is important to understand copyright laws as they relate to online images. Talk to a Miami copyright lawyer today.


A Copyright doesn’t have to be registered to be enforceable

The USPTO has a registration process for obtaining patents and trademarks. However, the copyright does not need to be officially filed or registered. The United States Copyright Office website states that theirs is “an office of record, a place where claims to copyright are registered, and documents related to copyright are recorded.” Owners have copyright in their material without taking the affirmative step to make it official. However, if they want to take steps to enforce their copyright, it is important to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office to ensure that the intellectual property owner has a right to remedies under the federal Copyright Act.


Images may not be used without permission, even for educational or non-commercial purposes

Many people are under the impression that copyright laws only exist to prevent others from profiting from another individual's copyrighted work. This is sometimes referred to as “fair use.” However, this is not the case. Using a copyrighted image without permission is a violation of copyright law, regardless of how the image will be used.


Copyright law is written into the U.S. Constitution

Article I, Section 8, clause 8, of the United States Constitution states the purpose of copyright laws is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Intellectual property rights were written into the Constitution to provide an incentive for inventors and creators to help America intellectually thrive.


Publication does not mean “public domain.”

Another common misconception is that publication of an image puts it into the public domain. This, however, is not at all true. Protected items don’t enter the public domain until the life of the creator, plus at least 75 years have passed. The reason for the copyright expiration date is to limit the extent to which intellectual property is being controlled by someone from the grave. Creators generally retain the rights to their IP during their lifetime, and during the lifetime of any children, they may have.


Sometimes image owners give away only some of their intellectual property rights.

It’s important to know which type of license you’ve been granted. The right to use a photo whose copyright is owned by someone else is called a license. Photos may be licensed for use in certain situations (e.g., some photos may be free for use for educational purposes, but not commercial purposes). Google has an image search feature that indicates whether photos have any restrictions on use. Some photos may be free for non-commercial use while others may be free for a use with a proper attribution of credit. There are safe, free images on the internet.

Even though you can’t use most images without permission, there are websites on the internet which provide images for use. The New York Public Library has released many photos that are in the public domain for use on the internet and in publications. There are also sites like Pixabay and Unsplash that have photos that are free for use without any fees or copyright limitations.