5 ways how to use images legally

The beginning of this article is obvious – if you want to use in your blog or document an image from the internet, you can’t just find it, copy it and use it. It is safer to presume that the picture is protected under copyright and by using it, you might violate the law.

However, there are ways how to find and use pictures from the internet legally. This article gives their overview.

In the beginning, it is necessary to stress that any image is protected by copyright. The author of the picture does not need to apply for it. But to understand its protection, you should try to imagine a scale. On one end, there is no copyright protection and on the other one, no possibility to use an image. The use of images lies in between these extremes.


1.   Get an approval from the author

The most obvious way, how to use an image legally, is to get an approval from the author. Getting consent and using it in accordance with the given consent is one of the safest, if not the safest way, how to protect yourself. Unfortunately, you may experience many problems: author would refuse, he or she would ask too much money or would not communicate with you. On the other hand, some people had very positive experience with the request.


2.   Get unprotected images

The legal systems around the world share a basic principle that copyright protection of an image (or any other work) does not last forever. The author would always be the author of the image. But after a certain time, which depends on the national legal regulation (e.g. 70 years after the death of the author in the USA), other people can use the image without the need of author’s consent. Find more about public domain images here.


3.   Fair use

For certain countries, especially the United States, you may use the images under the legal doctrine of “fair use” or “fair dealing”. It is a concept specific for the common law system. It enables the use of copyrighted material without permission for specific purposes. It is up to the user of the image to decide whether he or she meets the legal requirements – the “balancing test”. However, only court might finally decide about the legality of the fair use, therefore the user must defend his or her decision in court. You may find more specific information about fair use of images here.


4.   Use statutory licenses

Although the fair use doctrine is specific for Unites States, it does not mean that other legal systems does not allow certain exceptions from copyright. The law usually enables non-authors to use the images for specific purposes. The difference is that these limitations are a little less flexible than fair use doctrine. These purposes might include: use for personal purposes, for educational or scientific purposes, use by state authorities, for news, etc. Once again, these rules vary from country to country and for the best and most updated advice, you should contact a lawyer in your area.


5.   Use licenses from the authors

Finally, some of the authors enable the use of their work by giving consent, as in point 1 of this list. The difference is that you do not need to ask for permission, because the author had already given it. They usually publish their work under special licenses, such as Creative Commons, GNU General Public License, etc. You should not forget to attribute the author. But together with public domain images, these licenses represent one of the biggest resources for using images of other authors legally.


How to find them?

There are several ways, how to find the images that might be used. There is a nice article, that introduces a surprising possibility to search for these images via Google’s filter. Moreover, you can use the search engines of the licenses, such as Creative Commons engine. Finally, there are also websites with public domain images.

It is possible to use nice images, even if you are not the best photographer. You just need to keep in mind several rules or ask for legal advice, in case that you are not sure. It is better than dealing with potential problems afterwards.


Note: This article is intended as a summary of issues. Its purpose is not a to provide legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author of this article.

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