A cautionary tale for you today, my friends, about public domain and using other people’s photographs on your website or blog.
A client of mine who has a really elegant website has now received four different letters from lawyers, stating that images on the website and blog are not, in fact, public domain, that the images are owned by their clients, and that they are demanding compensation for usage (and we are not talking pocket change!).
Copyright is a tricky thing. For example, most public buildings can be photographed without any problem, but some, like the Atomium in Brussels, is considered a work of art and protected by copyright. (See this letter from 2003 regarding a photograph that was used online.)
As this article points out, there is no such thing as International Copyright Law. Saying you “found” the image you are using online is not going to cut it with the legal world.
If the image is core to your branding or logo, be sure you secure the rights to use it. It may take some digging to find the original creator, but you must make the effort, and get permission in writing. Another alternative it to use a stock photo service and pay for the use of the image. If you are using a graphic designer or content manager to source your visual materials, be sure that you have a clause in your letter of agreement that confirms they have permission to use the images provided.
Wikipedia has a list of “public domain” image sites that you can find by clicking here. Award-winning graphic designer Avery Swartz points out that the Creative Commons is a great place to look for images. But remember: it’s still your responsibility to determine whether or not the image is truly copyright-free before you use it, and to give credit where it’s due. And when in doubt, leave it out.
On the other side of the equation, I would urge artists and photographers to watermark their images (or at the very least, include your URL, Flickr name, or email address in a text overlay), and email them to yourself so you have proof that they are yours, BEFORE you release them into the internet sea.
(And for the record, all my words are mine too, so please credit me if and when you share :))
(Photo By John Vance (Flickr: WW2 Camera) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons) (see what I did there?)