Best Practices

IASourceLink: Why You Should Know About Fair Use

Published Sep 02, 2014 by

by: Valyn Reinig

copyrightSmall business owners have a lot on their plates. Between meetings, scheduling, budgets, traveling and working all week, checking to make sure there are no copyright restrictions on the images used in promotional materials, might not be on their radar. It’s just as important though, and here’s why. Copyright laws can be confusing, but they’re put in place to protect the rights of the creator. What gets tricky is that the line between the creator’s rights and public’s interest can be pretty grey.

Understanding the basics of copyright laws and Fair Use can help you stay in the clear and avoid getting heavily fined for using someone else’s work.

What is Fair Use?

The Fair Use policy offers a way for people to get around some copyright restrictions. Fair Use refers to using a copyrighted image under the reasons deemed “fair” by the United States Copyright Office. Normally the creator of the work would have total control over what the image could be used for, but under Fair Use, the creator forfeits some of those rights to the public. For the use of the image to be counted as “fair” it has to follow a few guidelines:

  • Purpose: Image must be used for educational purposes, or as a criticism, or comment
  • Transformation: The image must be altered into something entirely new (meaning is changed)
  • Scope: How much of the original image will be used? (less is generally better)

If an image has no claimed author, it goes into the public domain. This means that the image has no copyright restrictions and anyone in the public can use it for whatever purposes they’d like. Using public domain photos won’t get your business in trouble, so you can use them in marketing materials, social media posts, and even your logo!

To recap, if you’re wavering on making the final decision to use an image that could have copyright restrictions, it’s better not to risk it and try to find images in the public domain to use. Stay tuned for my next post on how to locate the best places to find royalty free photos!

For a more in depth look at copyright laws and Fair Use, check out this article from Social Media Examiner.


Content contributed by Valyn Reinig, IASourceLink. IASourceLink is a proud affiliate of U.S. SourceLink, America's largest resource network for entrepreneurs.