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Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

Stories To Tell Books BLOG

Can I Use That Internet Image in My Book?

Biff Barnes

You saw a photo on the internet that would work perfectly to illustrate your book. Can you legally use it?

Courtesy of Chris Brown (zoonbar) under Creative Commons

That’s a complicated question. Let’s begin with some advice from an intellectual property lawyer. Deena B. Burgess, Esq., Managing Partner with the Law Offices of Deena Burgess said, in an interview on Web Worker Daily , “The first thing that needs to be understood is that every photograph is the intellectual property of the person who took the photograph.  Copyright protection attaches even where the person has not put a copyright notice and even if the copyright is not registered with the Copyright Office.” To use a copyrighted image you need permission from the copyright holder. Simply crediting the creator of the copyrighted material is not enough. As Burgess explains, “Without permission, even if you were to give credit to the copyright holder, you would still be infringing their work…If you were to contact the photographer and ask for permission to use the photo, you then would not be violating the rights of the photographer provided you abide by whatever terms the two of you agree to.”

There is one condition under which copyrighted images may be used without permission. That’s the legal principle of fair use. [Stories To Tell has discussed fair use in regard to printed material in a previous post “Fair Use” in Memoir and Family History Books ]

Sara Hawkins provides a discussion of its application to images in , Copyright Fair Use and How It Works for Online Images on the Social Media Examiner site. Fair use is a complex concept and applies only under very specific conditions which have been defined by the courts in case law. It is important to realize that fair use does not apply to all images on the internet. Hawkins warns, “Please keep in mind that stock photo services…are not subject to fair use due to the rights they carry. Stock photo services require you to pay for a license…”

One way to navigate the issue of using internet photos legally is to look for photos licensed under Creative Commons. Founded in 2001, “Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.”

The organization has created an easy to use licensing system for a variety of copyrighted intellectual property. The Creative Commons website explains how photographers may license their work, “Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved. Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.”

Creative Commons offers six licenses, ranging from the least restrictive, “Attribution (CC BY) - This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation,” to the most restrictive, “Attribution Non-Commercial Non-Derivs (CC BY NC ND) - This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.”

By complying with the terms of the Creative Commons License chosen by the copyright holder you can safely use the image. Images licensed under Creative Commons are easily located. Google offers a tool to  Find Creative Commons Images in Google Images . A search bar entry Flickr Creative Commons displays photos posted on the site under each of the various Creative Commons Licenses. Most major photo sharing sites have similar features.