This article is a result of a conversation that I had with someone recently about use of images that you might find on the Net.
Their perception was “that if you find it in Google Images, it is in the public domain and therefore able to be used freely”
That is not actually correct although if you find an image and use it in your Xmas newsletter you probably won’t end up in prison for using it (no guarantees though). US copyright has a concept of Fair Use; not sure about laws in NZ or elsewhere.
However, if you use one for commercial purposes (like on your business website) without checking out about use or attribution, you may end up with a problem or a “Cease and Desist” warning letter from a Lawyer. Particularly if you are using a trademarked image like the Silver Fern (even if you alter it a bit).
In the US you may end up in court before you even know that you have done something wrong. For a US horror story read
You should assume that anything might be copyright even if it does not specifically state that. Copyright can automatically exist purely because of the creation of a work of a certain type. According to The Copyright Council of NZ “Photographs are automatically protected by copyright when the photos are taken.”
Google will index anything that it can find on the Internet and make it searchable. But that doesn’t mean that Google owns it and is giving you permission to use it. This applies to any content, not just images.
When you click on images in Google Images search results, they will often tell you what the terms or restrictions on use are. In many cases it is just a matter of attributing the image to the owners. Tourism New Zealand and many RTOs have image libraries with images that are available for use as long as you apply for permission in advance
If you do a search on Google Images, initially they show you all images. If you look under Search Tools you will find an option for “usage rights” where you can filter images by how they are labelled for usage.
Regarding images Google says
Before reusing content that you’ve found, verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, many licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license label is legitimate, so we aren’t making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed.
These terms say things like:
Fair use is a concept under copyright law in the U.S. that, generally speaking, permits you to use a copyrighted work in certain ways without obtaining a license from the copyright holder.
We suggest you speak with an attorney if you have questions regarding fair use of copyrighted works.
Without exception, we require attribution when Content is shown. Please do not ask to negotiate this requirement. If you are unwilling to meet our attribution requirements, contact our data provider(s) directly to inquire about purchasing the rights to the Content directly.
and more… You probably get the idea.
So, it is not the Wild West, there are some rules that you should be aware of. Assume that anything might be copyright even if it does not specifically state that. Copyright can automatically exist purely because of the creation of a work of a certain type
If in doubt ask the owner of the image. Or use many of the Images libraries where you can obtain images for a reasonable price or for free. It is a case of “User Beware”
Don’t take this article as legal advice. It is just our simple interpretation. Consult a lawyer who knows about copyright laws for proper advice if needed please!