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Digital Images and Copyright Law – What You Need To Know

With the advent of graphic design software becoming more readily available for the average client, we are finding more and more individuals who are looking to tackle their own design needs personally. These days, everyone is both a designer and photographer, and there is a wealth of information available through some very simple online searches. This can be a great way to save dollars, but those who are designing should be aware of some very strict and often ignored copyright laws involving digital photography in both Image Use and Copyright Law. Using a copyrighted image in print work can be very dangerous if the photographer were to find out they weren’t compensated for the use of their image.

All photographs are owned by the original photographer/creator. Just because you have found an image online (for example on Google Images), does not mean that you have permission to use or print that image. You must have specific permission from the photographer to use their image, legally.

Many photographers submit their images to stock photo websites, such as istockphoto.com and bigstockphoto.com, which can be purchased by firms or designers for use in printed products. This can be an easy and affordable way to obtain legal images for printed use. However, be sure to read the terms of any agreement you purchase into, to ensure the image rights you have purchased will cover the type of printing/sharing that will be utlized, as well as the number of distributed copies allowed (some licenses only allow for a certain number of image reproductions).

In addition to stock photos, a designer may find usable images for print searching for images that are within the Public Domain. Public Domain simply means the images are out of copyright and are free for use. However, like with stock photos, it is important to make sure the information regarding the copyright on these images is correct, this can often times be achieved by contacting the photographer directly. Some great websites for public domain images are: publicphoto.org and pixabay.com.

If you are really stuck and are convinced using Google Images is the only way to find an image of your liking, you can modify your Google search to include only images that are licensed for your needs. Simply follow the following instructions:

  1. Go to Google.com and search for an image of your choosing, such as “Motorcycles”
  2. Select “Images”, and then find the little gear icon at the top right of the page, and select “Advanced Search”
  3. From this page, find the “Usage Rights” section and choose the appropriate “free to use” option, and click “Advanced Search” to update your search results
  4. Here you will find a list of images with the appropriate usage rights for your needs. You may need to still credit the photographer, so check into the specific terms of your image prior to print if you are still unsure.

For more information on copyright in design and photography, check out copyright.govcreativecommons.org.

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