So you’ve found the perfect images for your project, but you may not know about copyright or you might not be sure whether it’s okay to use the images for your personal or commercial needs. While it may be frustrating enough to want to hire a copyright lawyer, many small businesses, website owners and craftsmen may not be able or willing to spend big bucks for copyright services.
First, what is copyright and how does it affect you?
In general, copyright protects the creator and his work from being copied. This applies to both personal and commercial uses. The creator of the work alone has the right to copy and control all aspects of any copies made of such work.
In the United States, copyright is the right to create a piece of work and automatically be given protection from another entity using or copying that piece of work, for personal or commercial use, whether or not it has been published or registered.
All countries have their own copyright laws, and those laws must be adhered to by anyone who wishes to use images from another country. You can find helpful information about many countries’ copyright laws by reading the U.S. Copyright Office’s Circular 38a: “International Copyright Relations of the United States” at copyright.gov/circs or by visiting the World Intellectual Property Organization’s website at wipo.int/.
While it’s not necessary to spend hours reading about copyright law, it’s a good idea to be a little familiar with it. You can find a good overview on Wikipedia, just use the search term “copyright”.
In general if you do not adhere to copyright laws you risk being sued, and penalized.
The good news is that most designers are well aware of the copyright laws that protect them, and will be more than happy to tell you what you need to know to use their clip art for commercial purposes.
To be safe, find and keep a record of the following information about the clip art you’ve chosen:
Does the actual creator of the image allow commercial use?
Do you need to pay extra for a commercial use license once you have purchased the image, and how long will the license last?
Are you limited to how many items you can use the image with, or to what types of items you can make with the image?
Will you have to pay royalties and what will the terms be?
There are also a couple things you should never do:
Resell the images as they are. For example: You want to compile or offer some clip-art, vectors or graphics on a CD or website. To do this, you would need a special “Resale License” and most designer’s do not offer this. Change the art in any way or claim the it as your own. In most cases you cannot copy or change any works created by another entity.
Imagine that you have a successful product, with a lot of time, money, and hard work behind it. It is safer and easier to deal with copyright issues in the beginning rather than in the end, in court.