The Complete Guide to Image Copyright and Plagiarism:
What You Need to Know
Whether you’re a student, a marketer, or a business owner trying to establish your online presence, it’s important to avoid committing mistakes related to copyright and plagiarism. Such a mistake can be costly in the long run.
Read on to learn about image plagiarism and copyright infringement, and find helpful resources on how you can avoid committing plagiarism in your work.
First, we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about image copyright and plagiarism.
What is image copyright?
Image copyright refers to image ownership. Copyright is legal protection granted to creators who create any work of authorship. As soon as you click your camera’s shutter or your iPhone’s home button, your job is automatically considered a copyrighted image.
- • Reproduce the copyrighted work
- • Make derivatives of the work
- • Display the work publicly
- • Distribute the work to the public through sale, rental, or lending
You can learn more about image copyright from these articles:
- • Can I Use This Photo on Social Media? Understanding Image Copyright
- • Photo Copyright 101: Is it Legal to Use Photos from the Internet?
- • Four Easiest Ways to Tell if an Image is Copyrighted
- • Copyright & Web Images
- • Copyright: A Practical Guide
What Are the Penalties for Violating an Image Copyright?
There are several legal penalties for copyright infringement in the U.S. Visit these links to learn more about the civil and criminal penalties.
- • Consequences for Violations of the Copyright Laws
- • Copyright Infringement Penalties
- • Copyright Infringement -- Penalties -- 17 U.S.C. 506(A) AND 18 U.S.C 2319
What Are the Types of Images That Are Subject to Copyright Protection?
According to the US Copyright Act, images are defined as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.” These works include “two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans.”
How Do You Know if Your Content Is Violating Someone Else's Copyright?
Copyright infringement takes many forms. If you own copyrighted images, you have to acknowledge that there is a real risk of someone using your photo without your permission when you publish it online.
What is the best way to protect your work from being stolen and check if someone has already done it? We compiled this list of articles to guide you through the steps that you have to take.
- • How To Find Out if Someone Stole Your Pictures
- • How to See Who's Stolen Your Photos (And What to Do About It)
- • How to Check if a Photo is Stolen
- • How To Find Stolen Images on the Internet: The Complete Guide
- • How To Find Stolen Pictures Online: A Practical Guide
What are the different types of copyrights?
You may be wondering, how many types of copyrights are there? Here are some articles that you can read to learn more about the kinds of copyrights.
- • Copyright Overview: What can be copyrighted?
- • Are There Different Types of Copyrights?
- • What Can Be Copyrighted
- • Kinds of Copyrights
Applications of Copyright: Important Concepts You Should Know
It’s all too common nowadays to download an image from the internet and reuse it elsewhere. Many of us may not know that this practice is a form of plagiarism.
Simply put, plagiarism is when you pass off another person’s work as your own, whether intentional or not. It can be considered plagiarism when you fail to give proper attribution to the creator of a piece of work, whether it’s a text, a song, or an image.
Want to understand plagiarism and how to avoid it? Read our comprehensive guide to plagiarism.
Copyright infringement usually involves copying, distributing, or creating a derivative of another work that you do not own without the express permission of the work owner or any applicable exceptions from the Copyright Law. The unauthorized use of licensed images falls under copyright infringement.
What is the difference between copyright infringement and
Visit these links to learn more about the topic.
- • The Difference Between Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement
- • Infringement and Plagiarism
- • Copyright vs. Plagiarism
- • Difference Between Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism
According to the Stanford University Libraries, fair use is “a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism."
Often, there is a fine line between fair use and plagiarism and copyright infringement. Make sure to review any copyright restrictions concerning the use of any images that you are looking to reuse or reproduce.
Valuable Resources on Copyright and Fair Use
- • Copyright Law (United States)
- • What is Intellectual Property? – Definition by the World Intellectual Property Organization
- • Copyright Art Issues – Resources compiled by Christine Sundt
- • Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and Copyright – Guidance on the academic use of images by the Visual Resources Association
- • Summaries of Fair Use Cases – Compiled by lawyer Rich Stim for the Stanford University website
- • How to Avoid Copyright Infringement of Online Images – An explainer of the Copyright Law by lawyer William Honaker
- • Getting Permission to Use Archival Materials in Architecture – For academic purposes; article by the University of Southern California
- • Avoid Plagiarism, or How to Successfully use the Works of Others: Using Images – Examples on how to cite images used for research purposes, from the University of Waterloo
- • Avoiding Plagiarism: Citing and Using Images – Another image citation guide for students from the Columbia College of Chicago
- • Copyright and the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction – a TEDx talk by Eric Doeringer (video)
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that “helps overcome legal obstacles to sharing knowledge and creativity.” They provide licenses and public domain tools that help create a standardized way to grant permissions for creative or academic works.
These licenses allow creators to grant permission on how their work can be used. There are different kinds of licenses depending on how the creator wants their image to be used.
Find out more about the different licenses here:
- • What are the different types of CC licenses?
- • Types of Licenses
- • What are Creative Commons licenses?
- • Copyright and Intellectual Property Toolkit
- • 15 License Types
How to Choose Which Creative Commons License is Right for You
Choosing a creative commons license can be confusing if you’re not familiar with each license. For most cases – especially if you’re going to use images on social media – are attribution-only and CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) public domain licenses.
Keep in mind that if the license mentions “attribution,” you must give credit to the work's creator.
If you’re still not sure which to use, try this license chooser from Creative Commons.
20 Websites With Free-to-Use Image
- Burst by Shopify
- Styled Stock
- Kaboom Pics
Not sure whether an image you have downloaded on the internet is copyright protected? You can use free tools such as Google’s Advanced Image Search or Reverse Image Search by Small SEO Tools to check. It’s also a good idea to refer to this guide on copyright protection for works published in the US.
To be safe, always ask yourself these questions from Friendly Stock before downloading and using stock photos from the internet:
- • Is the license current?
- • Are you going to use the image for commercial purposes?
- • If so, is there a need to collect releases?
- • Are there any copyright issues?
- • Are there any items in the photo that could be protected by trademark law?
Search for freely usable images through these links:
What happens if you use a copyrighted image?
Implementing copyright laws is not as straightforward as it seems, and Here are a few scary stories about what could happen when there's a breach of copyright.
- • Photographer Faces Legal Action After Using a Photo He Downloaded from Unsplash (2019)
- • Unsplash Responds to Image Licensing Concerns, Clarifies Reasons for Hotlinking and Tracking (2020)
- • The $8,000 Mistake That All Bloggers Should Beware (2013, last modified in 2021)
Learn How to Protect Your Images from Copyright Infringement & Plagiarism
How can you prevent your images from being used without permission? Sadly, with the massive amount of information published on the internet every second, it’s challenging to avoid image theft.
Nevertheless, It's important to know how to protect your images and deter malicious users from misusing your work. Some of the techniques you can do include:
- • Adding a copyright notice to your published web pages
- • Putting a watermark on your photos
- • Uploading low-resolution images on your website
- • Disabling right-click menu options on your website
These methods are not fool-proof, and those who are determined to steal your content will always find a way around these. But it doesn’t help to try and make their work a little more complicated.
For now, one of the best things you can do to counter copyright infringement and plagiarism is by arming yourself with information. Here are some resources for further reading:
- • A Beginner’s Guide to Using Copyrighted Images
- • How to Copyright an Image or Photograph [Beginners Guide]
- • How to Copyright a Photograph or Image
- • A Guide to Online Images Copyright and Fair Use Laws
- • Can I Use This Photo on Social Media? Understanding Image Copyright
For Photographers and Artists: