Updated Notes on Copyright, Part 1
We've said it before and we'll say it again, "Copyright can seem confusing. Although, in reality, it isn't."
Simply put, if someone creates something, no one else can use it, without giving credit, and some kind of compensation. Meaning, you can't claim something is yours, if you didn't make it. Also, you want to use someone else's stuff, you have to pay for it.
Sometimes, however, there are exceptions for Fair Use. From US Code:
17 U.S.C. 107 Notwithstanding the provisions of 17 U.S.C. 106 and 17 U.S.C. 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
the nature of the copyrighted work;
the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
As the U.S. Copyright Office says, "the distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission."
So, what does Fair Use mean?
Well, you can't take someone's photograph, and digitally erase a single tree and call it yours. That simply does not "Substantially Alter" the original. It does mean, if you run a blog, commenting on photographers, you can show an image, with proper credit, critiquing it. You cannot profit directly from the image. At all times, you must remember, CREDIT where credit is due.
The explosion of images all over the net is one of the big reasons for widespread misuse and the nasty habit of people stealing photographs. With Pinterest, Google+ and Facebook, people see images daily, and it is all too easy to copy someone else's creative work. Posting someone else's image as your own is stealing. There's no such thing as "but it was online" or "but I got it from Facebook." Neither of these are public domain. It doesn't matter. It's someone else's image. Don't use it. Public Domain is a legal term meaning a work that is no longer under copyright protection. Lately, it seems as if too many people are either ignorant of copyright law, or fall into the camp of, "It's better to beg forgiveness after, than gather permission before! These folks are weighing the risk of getting caught, as low, and the punishment as even lower, should they be caught.
There is a new issue arising over the use of copyrighted works where the author cannot be determined or found, otherwise known as "orphan works." This is particularly a big issue in the stealing of photographs. Remember, it's stealing if you use it, without credit and compensation!
Many websites strip Metadata, the copyright, and identifying information, from digital images when they are uploaded. This can prevent good-faith users (someone who made a "reasonably diligent effort to find the owner") from finding the copyright owner. This is still a bad excuse. With the power of Google Image Search, it is easy to enter a photo into Google's search engine and find the other instances of an uploaded work. If you really want to find the owner, it may take more work, but just because an image is online everywhere, that doesn't mean someone cannot find the rights owner.
... if someone creates an image, you can't use it, without giving credit and some kind of compensation. You want to use someone else's stuff? Pay for it.
In Part II, we'll take a look at Creative Commons
A Few links to other thoughts on Copyright Law In Photography: