Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Public Domain or The Net: Is there a difference?

The internet and the public domain are not the same thing.

Many bloggers post photos on their sites with a disclaimer that they found the images in "the public domain." Unfortunately for them, they are probably wrong. Just because an image is circulating around the internet doesn't mean it isn't protected under copyright laws.

An easy-to-understand definition of PUBLIC DOMAIN: creative or original works not protected under intellectual property laws. They are images whose copyrights have expired, or were never copyrighted. In other words, a public domain image assumes that the creator of the work has relinquished his work to the public or can no longer claim exclusive rights over it. The work is now owned by the public. Once an image enters the public domain, anyone can copy, manipulate, distribute, display or simply use it anyway he wants without legal encumbrances. To put it plainly, granting an image to the public domain is a total unconditional abandonment of all rights to the image.

Images of models and actors are almost always protected under copyright laws. Even if the photographer posts the photo online, no one has the right to reproduce the image without the photographer's consent. Posting a disclaimer that you don't own the images on your blog is pretty much useless. Unless you have specific permission from the owner to use a photo, you are violating copyright law and there may be legal consequences. In other words: you could be sued.

Many photographers allow you to use their images if you credit them and provide links to the photographers' websites. The easiest way to get permission is to contact them. Most photographers' sites have contact info. If you'd like to use a photo, send an email and ask for permission. If they allow you to use their work, great. If they say no, it's important that you remove the photos immediately.

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