How To Tell If An Image Is Copyrighted? - Drishti Law

If you wish to use an image for your work you found online, remember that its copyright policy holds much more importance than you can imagine. A small neglect of the copyright rules can land you serious legal repercussions, leading to a fine of as much as $30,000, and this is the tip of the iceberg. The courts can even penalize you up to $150,000! 

The rule of thumb is that you assume that every image is copyrighted, and you have to ask permission to use it. This is the only safe route for avoiding copyright infringement. 

In this blog, we’ll list down five easy ways to know if an image is copyrighted.

How To Tell If An Image Is Copyrighted?

1. Check for a Watermark on the Image

The easiest way to check for a copyrighted image is to examine the image for a watermark. Creators often superimpose their label/logo/name on the image to show their ownership. This prevents the illegal use or distribution of those images. 

A watermark means that the image is copyrighted and you cannot use it without permission from the creator. Furthermore, you can face serious legal charges if you try to remove or alter that mark through photo editing software. Since the mark usually contains the name or business name of the creator therefore you are bound to give credit to them. Failing to abide by these rules can land you in a federal lawsuit where the owner will use the illegal use of that image as proof of willful infringement. 

Hence, it’s not worthwhile to anger an artist by stealing their work. It doesn’t take much time to contact the artist and ask for permission. Artists are more than happy to share their work simply in return for photo credits. 

2. Photo Credits can be checked in the Caption of the Image

Captions provide context to the images, and this is where the photo credits are also present. Captions are a great way to protect the work from content theft. 

If you wish to use an image from a website, you can look out for a caption underneath it. The majority of the time, you will spot the photo credits in that caption. Terms such as “Photo Credits” or “Courtesy of”, and the like, are followed by the name of the person or enterprise having the ownership of that picture, and this is what you need to spot the owner. Once you get the name, you can search for them and ask for permission to use the image. 

3. Refer to the Metadata

Some images have embedded details alongside the image itself, also known as metadata. Metadata assists Google or any other search engine to identify the image and its relevance to the rest of the page’s content. 

Photo metadata includes a description of the image such as the headline or the keywords, and it can also include the photo credits i.e., the copyright information. 

Checking the metadata is another way of ascertaining the name and copyright policies of the owner. Having confirmed this, you can proceed to contact the owner for permission. 

To check the metadata, here’s what you have to do: 

  • For Windows: Right-click on the image, and select Properties. A pop-up window will appear displaying different types of information regarding the image. Click on “Details” for a detailed description. 
  • For MacOS: Open the image in Preview and click on “Tools”. Afterwards, click on “Show Inspector” where you will find the ⓘ icon. Click on it and then select the “EXIF” tab to view the details of the owner as well as their copyright notice. 

4. Use the Reverse Image Search feature

Reverse image search is another but easiest way to find out if the image is protected by copyright. If you don’t wish to go through the trouble of checking up the metadata or even spotting for photo captions, you can simply use the Google image search feature to your advantage. Search up the image by using the said search feature and you will be able to find the owner of the image. 

5. Use the U.S. Copyright Database

The smartest way is to use the government’s biggest copyright database. If you have the name of the owner or the title of the image, you can look for the copyright information on the Database’s Public Catalog. If the owner has registered the work, you will be able to find the record of their work. 

Keep in mind that the image copyright exists even if the owner has not registered it with the Copyright Office. Lack of registration does not mean that the work is not protected or it does not have a limited-use license since images are protected by law the moment they are created. 

When do you not need to check Copyright on Images? 

Images are free to use if they fall in any of the following categories i.e., you do not need to seek permission for using the image: 

  1. It’s not copyrightable.
  2. It falls under the public domain.
  3. The usage does not violate the owner’s copyright.
  4. The usage comes under ‘fair use’. 

Copyright concerns with Stock Photos 

As stated above, all images enjoy the protection of copyright from the moment of their creation, so in this way, the same rule applies to stock photos/images. 

However, there is a key difference between stock images and other images. Most stock images are there for usage in exchange for a small fee therefore you often don’t have to go out of the way to seek the owner’s permission or give credit to the creator. Generally, you make a monthly or yearly purchase of stock accounts and then use and re-use the images available on the site to your heart’s content. Hence, by paying the creator their due royalties, you are freed from the copyright obligations. 

Final Word?

Copyright is a serious concern, especially for someone whose work involves a continuous usage of other people’s creations.

If you don’t know how to use copyrighted images, you can simply book a free consultation today with Drishti Law to learn how our experienced principal attorney can guide you in your copyright obligations.