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What Are Your Rights to Using Images?

learn image copyrightsWhile some indigenous peoples hold the belief that cameras steal one’s soul, and some psychics tune into a person’s energy using a photo, before you start snapping photos of people or scanning printed matter, it pays to educate yourself about the law. I’ll compare and contrast using your own images versus using other people’s images.

Using Your Own Images

You might think you can use any image you capture with your camera, right? Well it’s just not that simple. The legal repercussions depend on what exactly you frame in the viewfinder and where you are in the world when you press the shutter release.

If a photo contains a recognizable human face, then you must get permission from the model to use their likeness.

Get models to sign release forms. It is a very good idea to get the subjects of your photos to sign model release forms (also known as liability waivers) so that they have less chance of successfully suing you should you ever make money off of their image. Do a Google search for “model release form” for some boilerplate templates.

In addition, be aware that some jurisdictions have personality rights applying to living individuals and even those recently deceased. It is your responsibility to ensure that you do not infringe upon someone else’s personality rights by publishing their image their written permission. This is especially critical should you ever decide to use a person’s image for parody or social commentary or should the model feel that your image of them is unflattering.

Copy right your work. In some jurisdictions, copyright is implied in anything you create, while in others it is not. No matter where you are it is advisable to register your copyright with the relevant authority because this improves your chances of winning a court battle should someone not respect your copyright. In the United States and Canada, it is very easy to register copyright and costs only a nominal fee. You should also use the copyright symbol © with your name or business name and year of publication (which is required in at least 20 countries).

In the United States: www.copyright.gov

In Canada: www.cipo.ic.gc.ca

Watermark your images. Traditional watermarks are recognizable symbols that appear within the structure of paper in transmitted or reflected light and are used to identify the paper maker. Digital watermarks serve the same purpose in identifying the maker of an image. However, electronic watermarks can be visible or invisible. Visible watermarks can be as subtle as your business logo or name in the corner of each image, faded out to avoid competing with the images, or as obvious as big red opaque X in the middle of each image, greatly deterring the theft of your intellectual property (but also making the image harder to enjoy viewing). Invisible watermarks encoded within image data can be used to prove that an image is your intellectual property.

 Using Others’ Images

There are many sources of digital images made by other people. However, before you use images made by others, it is your responsibility to determine whether you have the right to do so. For example, many of the images on Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) and Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org) have Creative Commons licenses, which forge a balance between the “all rights reserved” copyright model and releasing something into the public domain by granting specific abilities to share, remix, and/or reuse digital content. In some cases there are legal exceptions allowing you to fairly use copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the copyright holders. Finally, paying a fee for stock photographic content is another common route to licensing images made by others.

Using creative commons images. Creative Commons (www.creativecommons.org) is a nonprofit organization offering a set of licenses supporting cultural innovation on the Internet and elsewhere. All Creative Commons licenses require that you attribute the work in a manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in a way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Some of the Creative Commons licenses stipulate noncommercial use only and some disallow derivative works; others allow derivative and/or commercial works. You must be careful to find images allowing the particular uses you have in mind.

Understanding fair use and fair dealing. In many countries, specific exceptions to copyright law allow you to use copyrighted images without permission under certain circumstances. In the United States, fair use is the doctrine that enables commentary, criticism, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and library archiving of copyrighted images. In Canada and other common law jurisdictions, a similar but more restrictive principle called fair dealing applies.

Common misunderstandings about fair use and fair dealing include (but are not limited to) thinking that any use is fair use, noncommercial use is inevitably fair, strict adherence to fair use protects you from being sued, and using copyrighted images in free events or educational institutions is automatically acceptable.

This text is an excerpt from: Adobe Photoshop CS6 Essentials by Scott Onstott; ISBN: 978-1-118-09495-2. Reprinted with permission from Wiley.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 Essentials is the perfect primer for learning Adobe Photoshop, whether you’re new to it or updating your skills. This clear, task-based book covers them all, from navigating the user interface to how to identify design elements, paint and draw in Photoshop, apply layer styles, correct and adjust color, and much more. For more tips on and resources on Photoshop, go here.

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