If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve recently asked yourself how to do the right thing with copyright.

Creating your own blog, newsletter or social media post from scratch is hard. Chances are you’ve considered using (at least part of) someone else’s work. That (hopefully) doesn’t necessarily mean copying another person’s content wholesale. Rather, it’s about finding just the right image to illustrate your message, or copying someone else’s succinct way of phrasing a particular idea. It’s an understandable problem – after all, who has the time to go out and do their own photography, or research statistics from scratch?!

At the same time, nobody likes the idea of having their own hard work ripped off. Which is (part of) why you wouldn’t want to do that to someone else.

The good news is that it’s possible to take shortcuts by using bits and pieces of others’ work, whilst still making sure you do the right thing with copyright.

The rules

A couple of weeks ago, we blogged about the importance of protecting your own intellectual property. The sources of law from that blog hold true for respecting other people’s IP. Basically, copyright covers all sorts of work, including (but not limited to):

  • books, magazine articles and journal articles
  • blogs
  • poems
  • essays, assignments/theses
  • research reports
  • plays, film and TV scripts
  • music, scores and lyrics
  • photos, paintings, drawings, maps, charts, and diagrams
  • advertisements
  • DVDs, videos, broadcast media, and online video

It doesn’t matter whether the work was done professionally or just for fun. It doesn’t matter whether the work has ‘artistic merit’ or not – i.e. whether it would be considered a work of art. It also doesn’t matter whether the original creator of the work is based in Australia or not; Australia has agreements with other countries to help protect each other’s citizens’ intellectual property.

Tips for doing the right thing

  1. Use the Google Images advanced search function

Google provides an easy way to find images that you can use at will. The benefit of using Google is that it searches lots of different platforms for you at once, including Wikimedia Commons and free stock photo sites.

Start with an image search on images.google.com.au. Once you’ve got your results, you can filter them down to images that the creators have specifically tagged as O.K. for reuse.

To do this, click on the cog icon in the top right hand corner of your screen, and select ‘Advanced search’.

Advanced image search 1

Scroll down to the usage rights drop down menu. Then, select ‘free to use or share, even commercially’ if you’re not going to modify the image, or ‘free to use, share or modify, even commercially’ if you’re going to crop it, change the colours, add something etc.

Advanced image search 2

As long as your search is broad enough, you should be left with plenty of options – you can then choose the size, style, type etc. that’s right for your project.

Advanced image search 3

Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for? There are a number of reasonably priced stock photography platforms out there.

Many platforms allow access to images on a subscription basis – handy if you’re frequently creating content needing images. For less frequent users, images can be purchased for just a dollar or two apiece. Some of the biggest libraries include Shutterstock, Bigstock, iStock, and Fotolia.

  1. Check whether your use of their work is covered by an exception under copyright law

There are copyright law exceptions you may be able to use, even in a commercial setting. Many of the exceptions contained in the Copyright Act and other sources of law have to do with libraries, educational institutions, and other public interests.

For example, you can use a small excerpt of someone else’s work if you’re doing a genuine criticism or review of it. Say you’ve read a newspaper article you strongly disagree with, and you want to tell your clients why. It’s fair for you to provide a link to the article, and to use quotes (with clear quote marks) to show specific phrasing you’re responding to. For a good quick overview of this exception, take a look at this article from the Arts Law Centre of Australia.

  1. If in doubt, ask

Found an image or a piece of text that you’d really love to use, but it’s not specifically marked for reuse? You can always ask the person who created it. This might sound a bit intimidating, but it’s important to remember that the worst that can happen is that they say no.

Try sending them a message to the email address listed on their site. You can also call them, or send them an instant message if you’re on a platform like Facebook or LinkedIn. Start by making sure you know how much you appreciate and like their work; don’t be afraid to really flatter them. Be honest about how and why you’d like to use their work. And make sure there’s something in it for them, if not money.

For example, many will be happy for you to use all or part of their work if you attribute them as the creator, and perhaps add a small link back to their website or other online profile. Favourable mentions and links back to their site help establish them as an authority or popular source in their field, as well as helping give their SEO a boost.

Looking for more tips or information? Feel free to drop us an email or call our Melbourne office for extra tricks and strategies. Please note that we cannot provide formal legal advice.