If you’ve been writing for Associated Content for awhile, you know how much an appropriate photo or graphic can add to your article. But are you sure you have the right to use that great photo you found? Here are some tips to get you started. (Of course, none of this is intended as legal advice; if you have a serious legal question you should consult a lawyer specializing in the field.)
One thing to keep in mind is that although you may have the permission of the photographer to use a photo, that does not necessarily mean that it is legal for you to use it. If the photograph contains a recognizable human figure, you may also be required to have the permission of the individual being photographed. If you have taken the photo yourself, you can easily have them sign a model release, but if you have downloaded a photo from a stock photography website, there isn’t likely to be a release advisable.
The legal aspects of photographing human figures is quite complicated, and I am really not qualified to explain all of the details. For example, if you personally were to photograph a group of people watching a parade in your hometown, you would probably be free to publish the photo in an accurate context (i.e. if you said they were watching the parade.) On the other hand, if you were to imply that they were excited because they had just read your article in Associated Content, you could be in for a bit of trouble.
When the human in the photos is a celebrity, you’ve got a whole new set of issues. If you’ve taken the photo yourself, in a public place, without committing a crime (such as breaking into their house, or using a telephoto lens to invade their privacy), you’re almost certainly okay. On the other hand, most of the celebrity photos we see displayed today seem to be recycled from other sources. In this case, the subject matter (the celebrity) is probably okay to use, but the question is, who took the photograph, and have they really given you permission to use it? Most of the fan-based websites I see seem to use a disclaimer such as “I believe that all of these photos are in the public domain,” but it would really be a job to find out for sure. (I personally don’t have much interest in writing about celebrities, so I haven’t looked into this issue much, but I’d be interested to hear how some of you deal with the issue.)
Logos and Trademarks
Company logos and trademarks are another area to be wary of. They are almost always copyrighted, so even if you have the photographer’s permission to use a photo containing them, you probably don’t have the legal right to use it. A good way to be sure would be to check the company’s website to see if they’ve addressed the issue there. Even so, in the absence of any information to the contrary, I would assume that their logo is copyrighted.
Reproductions of famous artwork is another potential source of illustration for your articles. Visual works of art can generally be considered copyrighted if the author is still alive or has been dead for less than 70 years. (Personally, I’d just steer clear of anything created in the 20th century or later, unless I wanted to do a lot of research.)
That would presumably mean you’re in the clear if you take your own photos. But what about artwork photographed by others?
The current thinking on this topic is that accurate representations of 2-dimensional artworks (i.e., paintings) are in the public domain. This is based on a fascinating lawsuit, Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corporation, which was tried by a New York District Court in 1999. In this case, the Corel Corporation had purchased transparencies of art works from the Bridgeman Art Library, and then had reproduced them (along with artwork obtained from other museums) on a CD which was released for sale. Bridgeman sued, and presented their case by demonstrating the extreme care that had gone into creating their photographs, so that a precisely accurate rendering of the artwork was created. This actually worked against them, since the court found that there was no originality whatsoever in the photographs, and thus could not be copyrighted!
Government archives are another resource for images that are often in the public domain. Since government assets belong to the people, that is, to you and me, in many cases they cannot be copyrighted. (However, you should always check the website for particulars — in some cases, images appearing on government websites are under copyright to other individuals.)
Reproduction of book covers for the purpose of a book review is generally considered “fair use”. Fair Use is a doctrine in copyright law that means that, although copyrighted, material can be used in a limited way for certain purposes. In the case of a book review, publishing a picture of the book cover does not detract from the book’s market value, and, in fact, may add to it if your review inspires others to purchase the book. You should always cite the photographer or artist and the copyright holder, of course. In the case of hardbacks, the information can usually be found on the inside back flap of the dust jacket. On paperbacks it’s often on the back cover. If you can’t find the credit in either of those places, it’s probably on the copyright page, along with the other publishing information. If the cover does not have an individual copyright, it would be covered by the copyright of the entire book.
By far the most popular source of photos for AC articles seems to be the stock photography websites, such as Stock.xchnge and MorgueFile. What you need to know about stock photography websites is that there are basically two kinds — the kind you pay for and the kind you don’t. Some of the sites which advertise “royalty-free” photos require you to pay a subscription fee in order to legally download their photos. While it may be physically possible to download these photos, if you haven’t subscribed to the service, you don’t have the legal right to do so.
There are, however, many websites that offer royalty-free photos that are truly free, but you must always give credit to the photographer. (You cannot, for example, claim them as your own work, nor can you publish them without the proper credit.) It is also considered courteous to e-mail the photographer, letting them know that you appreciate their photo and telling them how it has been used.
On some websites it may take a little attention to tell the difference. Stock Exchange (www.sxc.hu), for example, offers thousands of free photos on their website. They also have a number of “premium” photos (they are labeled “premium results” and are located in the last one or two lines of the bottom of the page of photos after you do a search) that are available through their companion service, Stockxpert, which offers photographs which are not free. (You can easily tell the difference — if you have accidentally downloaded a premium photo without paying for it, it will display a watermark saying “xpert” across the center of the photo.)
It is important to remember that copyright law is a constantly changing field, and that what is true today may be changed tomorrow. Still, with a little care, interesting and attractive photographs and other illustrations can be found that will make your published writing even more fun to read!