Image Copyright Laws: Which Photographs You Can Use on Your Website & Why

Jillean Kearney
Jillean Kearney
May 28, 2015

Image Copyright Laws: Which Photograph You Can Use on Your Website & WhyDetermining whether you can use a particular photo (one that you found via Google, for example) to illustrate a blog post without breaking any copyright laws isn't always easy.

In Canada, the Canadian Copyright Act safeguards photographs in the same way that it protects other works of art like paintings and sculptures.

The Act protects photographs from being distributed or copied without the owner's permission. All photographs are protected automatically as soon as they're in a fixed form (saved on a camera's memory card on within your smartphone).

A photograph's owner is generally the person that takes the photo... unless they take the photo with someone else's camera, their boss told them to take a photo or a customer paid in-full for the photo. 

It's already getting confusing right?

To break it down, the three terms you will need to know (in addition to "copyright") in order to decide which photographs you can use (and where) are:

  • Fair use

  • Creative commons

  • Public domain

Fair Use: This is the legal right to use copyrighted photographs as long as they are used to serve an educational purpose or to benefit the greater good.

Creative Commons: A creative commons license is created by a photograph's owner to extend it for provisional use. Stipulations of use may include no modifications, required attribution or a ban on using the photograph to make a profit. If you find a photo with a Creative Commons license (like from Flikr's Creative Commons) make sure you fully understand all provisions.

Public Domain: Images that fall under this category do not have any copyright restrictions. Use them however you like.

A good rule of thumb is to not use any photograph that you're unsure of/can't find copyright info for. To stay on the safe side of the law, use a photo if:

  • You took it with your camera

  • You are using the photograph for an educational purpose or research setting (generally non-profit usage)

  • Modify the photograph to totally change the meaning of the photo (A parody, also under Fair Use law)

  • You bought the photography from a stock photography site

  • You are absolutely certain that no one owns the copyright (You got it off a public domain photography site)

    Be sure sure to check out our blog post Top 10 Sources for Free Stock Images to find free, safe and awesome photos for all of your website needs.

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