Using Google Images? Think about copyright permissions

From guest blogger Lesley Ellen Harris, copyright lawyer and editor of The Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter.

Search engines such as Google have opened up a huge world of images to us. In fact, Google Images is the first stop for many of us looking for the perfect image on our blog, e-book or presentation slide. Once you find that image, what can you legally do with it? Can you copy and paste it, perhaps even adapt it for your own purposes? In other words, are Google images free for the taking and using?

Assume Google Images Are Protected by Copyright

Although some images found in search engines may be in the public domain, you should actually assume the opposite – that all online content is protected by copyright law. Even content from other countries may be protected by copyright law in your own country.

One way to instill this message in others you work with and want to educate about copyright law is to remind them that Google is a search engine. Search tools such as Google Images locate content such as images and photos. Google is not a content depository nor is it a collection of public domain or copyright-free works. Google directs us to images and photos according to our search criteria. Once you find that perfect image or photo, you must take certain steps before you may legally use it.

No ©, No Copyright?

Even if the located image does not have a copyright notice, the familiar © symbol, it may still be protected by copyright. As with any other content you use, you will need to conduct research to see whether the image or photograph is in fact protected by copyright law or whether it may be in the public domain. If protected by copyright, find out if there are any terms of use attached to the image or photograph. These terms may be stated right beside the image, or you may need to dig deeper into the site to look for copyright information and permissions. Once you find any terms of use or copyright information, read the information carefully to determine whether the illustrator or photographer allows you to use the image or photo for certain purposes without obtaining permission. Similarly, if there is a Creative Commons license attached to the image or photograph, read that license carefully – does it permit limited or unlimited use of that image without communicating with the copyright owner?

Bottom line: Never assume that online images are free for the taking. Do your research. When necessary, obtain permission before using the image or photo.

Learn More:
More information about managing digital content and social media copyright issues will be shared in CCM400, an online course from SLA’s Click University. CCM400 starts March 18. Register today!
Questions? Contact Click University staff or Lesley Ellen Harris. Follow Lesley on Twitter.

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