helenlt on November 23rd, 2012
One of the areas that we get a lot of questions about is using images from the web. It has certainly been the topic of many posts on this blog. Long time readers will be familiar with our advice about not just doing a Google search and using which ever image captures your imagination. You can’t be always be certain that the image doesn’t infringe copyright. A recent article on techdirt.com shows that in using random images found the internet, copyright might be the least of your problems!
In the article, Denver News Crew Accidentally Livens Up Broadcast With An Inappropriate Image ‘Borrowed’ From The Web, an image of the cover of the new biography of General Petraeus was used in the news report. Unfortunately, the image was a joke one that had been doctored (follow the link to the article to see both the joke image and the genuine cover). For a professional news organisation that should be well versed in fact checking and copyright issues, this was quite embarrassing.
The moral of this story is to be aware that when you are using Google images (or even just Google), you are searching the whole web, and the search will include the good, the bad, the embarrassing and the infringing. Even if you follow our guidelines and restrict your search to Creative Commons material, you need to take care as you may still get embarrassing or infringing results. The creator of the satirical Petraeus book image could have easily licensed their image under Creative Commons, which would allow reuse under copyright, but it would still have been embarrassing if mistaken for the real cover.
So what steps can you take to avoid making the same mistake? Denver News’s use of the image was covered under US fair use, so they didn’t need permission from the publisher. (Although I’m betting they probably wish they had got permission from the publisher as it would have saved them some embarrassment). So if you are using material as permitted under copyright, what can you do to make sure that material is legitimate – not just from a copyright point of view but that the work is genuine?
First, check the source of the image – is it a reputable or official site? The staffer could have save themselves the embarrassment by using an image of the cover from the publisher’s site or from Amazon, and this would have been covered by fair use. While fair use does not apply in Australia, you can still download an image for teaching purposes under the statutory licences or for research under fair dealing for research and study. If you are using the image for teaching purposes or for your research or study, you can download a copy. For any other use, you will only be able to link to it.
Second, check the quality of the image. A poor quality image could indicate that it is not kosher. This is not always foolproof as the joke image in this case appears to be the same quality as the genuine one.
Third, check for a citation and/or copyright statement. This may help to identify copies that are not genuine. If the joke image had included the name of its creator, this may have been a clue that it was not genuine.
Be careful of user generated content and sites that host it – this content is more likely to have been altered for satirical purposes.
Our webpage on Identifying Infringing Material will provide some more useful tips. Using material that is non-infringing may also help to reduce the possibility of an embarrassing slip-up like Denver News made.