In the current digital era, it’s easy to share and use images and content. That means it’s also easy – though not necessarily intentional – to infringe on copyright when borrowing or reusing this material. For example, have you ever grabbed an image off the Internet to use in a proposal or a report, or even a presentation?

Although “fair use” – a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work – is often cited and assumed when content is borrowed, it doesn’t always apply. Copyright is subject to certain limitations, though, under the copyright law.

One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use,” according to the U.S. Copyright Office. A mistake, oftentimes, is how the content being created is classified. If money is made from using the content or it generates leads or sales, it is then considered as commercial use, which does not fall under “fair use.” So, if you pull an image into a presentation to engage or attract viewers, the image is considered “commercial use” if sales are generated from it.

Many argue that using an image is fine as long as you identify the source. However, that isn’t always the case. To help determine whether using an image is covered under fair use, you need to look at these four factors, according to Stanford’s Fair Use Project:

1) The purpose and character of use;
2) The nature of the copyrighted work;
3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
4) The effect of the use upon the potential market.

Keep in mind that image sites such as Flickr detail how the image can be used. Each photo allows you to check whether it is protected, useable without restrictions, i.e. for commercial use or useable under Creative Commons license.

With so much to choose from in our online world, be sure that your choices don’t result in copyright infringement. Let us know if we can help you deliver your message with images that tell your story, but keep you out of trouble.