ImageA quick scan of Google Images and there it is: the perfect photo to illustrate your best blog post ever. Right click… Save as… Upload and voilà: your post is ready to publish.

But that’s not the way intellectual property laws work. In almost every case, pictures found on the Internet (like songs and videos) cannot be used without the express permission of those who hold copyright.

To avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit, remember these five rules:

1. “Freely available” doesn’t mean free:

“Yes, the image is on Google Images. Yes, it would be easy to cut and paste and it fits with the topic of your post. But, just because it is on Google images, doesn’t mean it is free game.” (Looper Reed & McGraw

2. Don’t see a copyright symbol? Doesn’t matter:

“It is not necessary to obtain a copyright registration for the protection to exist nor is it necessary to use a © or other copyright notice for a work to be protected by copyright. Copyright protection exists from the moment a tangible work, such as text, music, drawings, photographs, and other types of works, is created.” (Mintz Levin

3. Without a license you’re not really “sharing.” Just taking:

“There is also not an ‘implied license’ to use copyrighted material because it appears somewhere on the Internet. Much of what is on the Internet is being ‘shared’ with the copyright owner’s permission through social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.” (Michelle Sherman

4. Think it’s “fair use”? Think twice:

“[Copyright] Myth 3: I can avoid copyright infringement liability by simply giving credit to the copyright owner. No, you cannot. That strategy may help with avoiding or mitigating liability predicated on trademark infringement based on the potential confusion of consumers related to the use of another’s trademark, but that strategy is ineffective when faced with a copyright infringement claim.” (Mintz Levin

5. Bottom line - a license is almost always cheaper than a lawsuit:

“The court determined that, had Dream Communications properly licensed the photo, it would have paid just under $8,000 in licensing fees. Finding that Dream Communications was liable for willful copyright infringement, the court awarded Pacific Stock statutory damages of $45,000 plus almost $7,000 in attorney fees and costs.” (Miller Canfield

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So what’s a blogger to do?

The final word, from Travis Crabtree

“Don’t assume photos are free. If you have any doubt, just ask. Just as important, keep that email as proof. Even if technically you did not get permission from the right person, you will show you made a good faith effort and avoid any willful infringement finding which can make you liable for statutory penalties and attorneys’ fees.”

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Further reading: