Copyright laws

Copyright 101

Published: 06/03/2014

The dawn of the digital age has brought about a lot of questions about fair use of images, and with it, a lot more research about copyright law than we ever cared to learn before. At Business Promotion, we go to great lengths to ensure every asset we use is protected and used correctly under the protection of the copyright law.

But without reading a lengthy law book the size of a dictionary, how can you be sure you're not breaking a copyright law when posting an image online? We'll break it down into some easy steps to ensure you won't be held liable in a court of law by unknowingly breaking copyright law.

First, what kinds of copyrights are there? There are actually a few different kinds of copyright protections.

First is public domain. This is work that is in the public domain, or is free to use. This usually means an image is very old and the copyright or trademark has expired, or the author has explicitly stated the work is shareware or free to use. Be careful with this one; don't assume just because you find something online that it is free to take. Doing an image search doesn't mean an image is fair use. Most of the time, in fact, images are copyright protected. To be on the safe side, assume all images are copyright protected.

Next we have Creative Commons. It's a different form of public domain or fair-use. Some photographers allow their work to be used for free with attribution or other restrictions. Flickr users will use this license on occasion.

Royalty-free is the most common type of imagery used for business and social media purposes. These are services such as Fotolia and iStockPhoto, and they allow purchase of a license for a one-time royalty fee. This protects the end user (us!) and allows the copyright holder payment for their work.

Copyright gives the author or creator of the work exclusive rights to their property. It typically gives them legal rights to sue or hold violators of the copyright liable for damages they perceive as monetary or otherwise if used without their permission. In other words, if you use someone's copyrighted image, they can make you pony up thousands of dollars and remove the image from your site. No fun.

So what's the best way to be sure you are properly protected and using copyright correctly?

  1. Use only images you are sure have been purchased with a license (by using either a website that specializes in stock photography or purchasing a license from a photographer).

  2. Don't steal images from a web search and post them. Doing a search and pulling images off the web is a good way to get an angry email from a copyright holder and possibly a lawyer.

  3. If you are posting your own images, consider taking steps to ensure they are protected. Watermark them, obtain copyrights, or otherwise protect your intellectual work.


As designers, we don't want our work taken without credit or payment. We would like our work protected. We also like to project a professional and respectful attitude toward others. We at Business Promotion ensure all of our resources are properly attributed and obtain appropriate copyrights. This protects us from any liabilities and ensures unique content that is 100% certified original.


Author: Erin Johnsen
Position: Designer
Erin Johnsen started designing in her junior high yearbook class and has been obsessed with fonts and layout ever since. She went into the digital media field because she felt it was the perfect marriage of right- and left-brain creativity and logic. Her favorite hobbies include photography, roller derby, and being a connoisseur of all things creative. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in digital media with an emphasis in internet technologies from Utah Valley University. She lives in Lehi, Utah with her husband and two children.

comments powered by Disqus