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What Are The Copyright Laws For Images?

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The World Wide Web has enabled people to enjoy a vast array of images from around the world. Does someone own images in books, movies and on the Internet? What are the copyright laws for pictures, graphic creations, photographs and images?

“Creative Artistic Work”

Artists creating an original, unique, fixed, tangible work have the ability to file a copyright. They must be able to show the date and publication of their work to the United States Copyright Office.

This copyright is intended to promote creativity and improve branding in the artistic and commercial fields. When someone sees Image A associated with Artist A, then that link creates artistic branding value.

There are many elements to copyright protection. The Commercial Right is the right to make money from the work. The Moral Right is the ownership of something belonging to you. The Intellectual Property Right applies to two-dimensional and three-dimensional images, pictures, photographs, drawings, illustrations, cartoons, designs, print, charts, maps and globes you create with your mind.

Copyright law protects photographs of yourself. Copyright law protects the creative pictures taken by photographers. The photographer uses lighting, angle and film developing techniques to create the work.

Owners are given exclusive copyright protection over production, distribution and publication of said artistic images. Officially, January 1, 1978 is the delineation between how long a United States copyright will last. Before then, copyrights were valid for terms of years and could be renewed. After then, the copyright lasts 70 years.

“What is a Fair Use Guideline?”

The Fair Use guideline realizes that an image can be shared for private usage or common purposes, like parody, news, education or research. The collaborative World Wide Web allows for more sharing of images.

If you want to use an image, you should contact the author and ask for permission. He or she will ask how you want to use it and if you are going to modify it. If the author gives you permission, there will usually be clear guidelines for usage. The author does not want the image to misrepresent his or her personality. Make sure you credit the creator of the original image.

Commercial image usage will usually require you to pay a fee to the author, copyright holder or the copyright licensing agent. Using a copyrighted image without permission can lead to serious penalties.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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