Faith Schneider

Web Developer and Designer
drawing of lightbulbs in different colors

8 Commonly-Believed Copyright Myths

When you own a website, it is important to understand what you are allowed to use on your website and in your marketing content. Breaching copyright law can result in a polite request to remove the content, your website taken down, and as much as a costly lawsuit. Keep reading to make sure you do not believe any of these 9 commonly-believed copyright myths.

  1. Its okay to use images and other media found on Google

    It is easy to find images of whatever you want by doing a simple Google search, but finding an image on Google images does not make it okay to use. Unless you obtain specific permission from the owner, or the media is clearly licensed for free use, these images are not free to use.

  2. If you paid for something, you own the copyright

    Copyright ownership, by default, goes to the creator of the media, regardless of who paid for their services. Most photographers, graphic designers and artists will have a contract that helps clarify your rights to the resulting product. Make sure you understand the agreement and negotiate for any additional usage you want.

  3. If I change something a little bit, I can get past the copyright

    While artists sometimes get away with highly modified works that bear little resemblance to the original, changing a copyrighted work does not change the copyright. Instead of wondering how much change you will have to make to an image to make it unrecognizable, steer clear of this dangerous assumption and obtain the proper license to use or modify an image. You might be surprised by an artist's ability to find and recognize their copyrighted media, even if it has been highly modified.

  4. There is no copyright unless the creator has applied for one, or has a copyright symbol

    All works are copyright as soon as they are created. Everything you create is immediately copyright to you. Things like trademarks are simply ways to register and help prove ownership, but are not required to make a work protected.

  5. Crediting the creator makes it okay to use

    Crediting the creator does not give you permission to use their media. Often, an artist will grant permission when you ask, but do not assume that you don't need to ask at all.

  6. "Fair use" is a loophole for using copyrighted media

    Fair use is an allowance for copyrighted content to be used for educational or critical review. For example, you are allowed to use the photo of a product in a blog post where you review the quality of that product. Using it to represent your own product, or as a decorative image on a website, is not covered by the fair use clause. On the other hand, if you see a negative review of your product, don't assume you can have it removed for copyright violation.

    "Fair use" specifically covers using copyrighted media for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.

  7. My web designer is responsible for avoiding copyright infringement

    The website is the responsibility of the website owner. Its important to both make sure that your web designer is not infringing copyright, and that you are not providing your web designer with media that you do not have rights to use - it is your website that will be affected by it.

  8. I can use media labeled "creative commons" for anything

    There are actually several types of creative commons licenses, and while they allow for the free use of media in most cases, they still have limitations depending on the type of license. Be sure to understand any limitations in a creative commons work. You might find some of the restrictions too limiting for your particular needs.

    Limitations can include:

    • The owner must be credited
    • No derivative works may be made
    • All derivative works must be also licensed under creative commons
    • Free only for non-profit uses

    See the list of creative commons lisences here: Creative Commons Licenses

** I am not a lawyer, and thus these items are merely my interpretion of research done on the subject of copyright. When in doubt, don't use anything you feel might breach copyright, or contact a lawyer for legal counsel.