By Steven Barket
NOTE: I am not an attorney, nor can I give legal advice. These are my opinions formed over decades of work.
Section 107 of the Copyright Act, which outlines the concept of fair use, states the following:
“… the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”
In the world of Google and online search results, we see billions, trillions, actually, of images and articles pop up regardless of the search terms we use to enact that search. Please be aware, that just because you can find it online, that does not mean that it’s free for you to use. There most often are copyrights attached to each and every one of those search results.
So when is it “fair use” to use something you find online? It’s actually very limited. The statement, “but I found it online” is not a defense for violating copyright. Just because you find something online, doesn’t mean it’s yours to use. You violate copyright when you use something someone else created — whether it’s an image or the written word — if you publish it and use it and present it as if it is your own work. Even if you credit the originator, that doesn’t mean it’s fair game for you to use under fair use.
The concept of using a copyrighted image under the Copyright Act’s fair use doctrine is limited. You may, in some cases, be able to use a copyrighted creation “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching.” That doesn’t give you “carte blanche” usage rights. For example, you can’t just throw up an image you found for your blog post or Instagram post or Facebook post on, say, boating, to illustrate your post just because you found it online.
Once someone creates an original work by committing it to paper, for example, or molded in clay, or painted on canvas or captured with a camera, or original writing committed to the drive of your computer, that piece of work instantly and automatically receives copyright protection.
Be careful what and how you choose to use something you found online. For all the info you’d care to know regarding the concept of fair use, please go to this link: copyright.gov/fair-use.