What Does "Image May Be Subject to Copyright" Mean?

By Mary Jane Freeman

Images are widely available on the Internet. In fact, doing a simple search can yield hundreds of images that can easily be copied and pasted, or downloaded for later use. However, because images are readily accessible does not mean they are without copyright protection, although determining the identity of a copyright owner is not always obvious or easy. For this reason, online entities often include the disclaimer, "image may be subject to copyright" on or near photos.

Images are widely available on the Internet. In fact, doing a simple search can yield hundreds of images that can easily be copied and pasted, or downloaded for later use. However, because images are readily accessible does not mean they are without copyright protection, although determining the identity of a copyright owner is not always obvious or easy. For this reason, online entities often include the disclaimer, "image may be subject to copyright" on or near photos.

Copyright Overview

Copyright law protects original works of authorship, including artistic, literary, dramatic and musical works. For example, books, movies, songs and software may be copyrighted. Original works on a website, such as photos, artwork and writing, are also copyrightable. To use a copyrighted work, permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. Sometimes permission is not required because the use meets an exception; for example, the work may be old enough to be in the public domain. Using someone's work without permission is copyright infringement, which can result in a lawsuit and penalties, such as damages and attorney fees.

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Online Images

Search engines return images when you conduct an Internet search. Along with the search results, you may see the disclaimer, "image may be subject to copyright." This may also appear on or near an individual photograph. This language places the user on notice that someone may own the copyright to the image. As a result, the user cannot reproduce, distribute or otherwise publicly display the photos without permission from the copyright owner, unless the use meets an exception. Similar disclaimers may also appear on individual websites.

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What Is Copyright Infraction?

References

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Copyright Laws for Using Someone Else's Work

A copyright protects original works in tangible form, such as manuscripts, music recordings or computer code, from being used without the owner's permission. Generally, if you want to use all or just a part of a copyrighted work, you must obtain permission from the copyright holder. Failure to do so is copyright infringement, which carries civil and criminal penalties. There is, however, a limited exception known as fair use.

How to Use Copyrighted Objects

Copyright protection gives the owners or creators of certain items full rights to their usage. When an item is copyrighted, there are typically limits on its distribution, copying and use to make a profit. Copyrighted photos, for example, cannot be used on a website without the permission of the copyright holder. Copyright protection does not limit private, personal use such as hanging a picture on a wall. Failure to obtain permission from a copyright holder before using a copyrighted object can subject you to fines, civil damages and attorney's fees. Some copyright violations also result in criminal penalties.

DVD Copyright Rules

United States copyright law is designed to protect the rights of people who create artistic work and those who purchase the right to use such works. DVD copyrights may be registered through the U.S. Copyright Office, but a DVD does not have to be registered to be copyrighted. Copyright protection immediately flows to an item the moment it is created in some tangible form; a DVD is considered a tangible form.

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