Is it OK to "steal" pictures for school reports, etc?

Started May 20, 2013 | Discussions thread
Jeff Veteran Member • Posts: 5,125
Public domain is not as simple as it sounds ...

DonA2 wrote:

Anything posted in the public domain is open to copy, for non profit, personal use.  Copy any of mine freely but don't let me catch you using it commercially without my explicit approval.  Or worse still claiming it to be your own.  It is proper to credit the photographer but for personal use, even to illustrate a grade school paper, who is being harmed?  I can't even see this as a moral issue.

I agree that this particular case is pretty innocuous. It takes a pretty hard heart not to give permission for a first grade report on eagles.  (But don't expect sympathy from Getty or the big time stock photo operations.) It's also refreshing to see a parent 'do the right' thing and talk about permissions, etc., in an age appropriate way.

About your first point, though, you have to be careful about what you mean by public domain. Copyright notices are no longer required in the U.S as of 1989. So a particular photo posted on a web site after 1989 without a notice doesn't mean the owner has put in the public domain. So there's a bit of work to do to make that determination. Unless there is an explicit note saying that it's in the public domain, or produced by a government agency, its best to assume is not.

Once a photo is in the public domain you can no longer can restrict to non-profit or personal use.  If some evil enterprise wishes to use your public domain photo, they can.  It's just your tough luck -- you no longer have any rights to control usage because its public. If they want to sell it, they can. That's the whole idea -- it is now public, meaning it is no longer yours.

That's why it's best to include a specific statement in your photo's metadata.  I do a standard 'all rights reserved' upon importing files into Lightroom.  I've sold a few pics and some published in various places, and it's never been a problem to give permission. From my very limited experience, publishers would prefer there is no ambiguity on ownership. So though it may seem odd, clearly stating your copyright can help get your photo published and used.

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