Images and music are protected by copyright – usually up to 70 years after the death of the last co-author. Protection is automatic from the moment the work is carried out, based on the law, in approximately 180 countries it is practically an extension of protection all over the world. The work does not need to be recorded somewhere. If I draw something, that drawing is considered by law as a protected work. The rules apply broadly to music as well. Films are more complex because we can deal with several categories of authors. Music and film are also complex because they include the rights of the artists or singers they perform. We are talking about the rights of performers (related rights of copyright). Usually, in movies, the rights belong to the producer. For ease of explanation, below, we will talk only about the images.
An image has one or more authors. The author, in general, may assign the exploitation rights to companies or third parties. We are interested in the rights to use the image (generally known as exploitation rights) because it involves the payment of sums of money for use. When we take or retransmit an image found on a social network, we actually exploit that image. The author’s agreement is therefore needed. If we do not have this agreement, the use is, in principle, illegal.
How do we still use that image
First of all, we look at the terms and conditions of the social network. The network may have taken over the usage rights from the author at the time of posting and may require the author to allow free use by network members or even by people outside the network (for example, someone who does not have an account on that network, but accesses it through Google search). Secondly, we look at any indication expressly published by the author. It is possible that the author indicates in his account that the images can be used for private or even commercial purposes.
Third, we need to check whether or not the image contains elements that have other rights (for example, the image represents an actor or a political figure). In this case, we have another topic to consider: to analyze whether the element can be used independently by the author of the image. For example, if the actor in the picture agreed to use the person’s representation.
In the example above, if the actor is on stage in a professional activity, it is very likely that the image can be used without any additional agreement. However, if the person is, for example, on the street, shopping (people photos, often found in tabloid magazines), the express consent of the person in the image is needed, regardless of the photographer’s consent.
Another option to check is to use specialized software that has become more numerous. There are companies that protect millions of images and, through specially designed programs, identify unauthorized uses. These companies could quickly give information about a certain image (who is the author, how much it would cost to use, etc.).
If I take the image and post it on my own website without the author’s consent, we are talking about copyright infringement. Obviously, I expose myself to a damage claim. In the event of a dispute, the courts may require payment of up to three times the value of a commercial license. On the other hand, the companies we talked about above, which manage millions of images, have created a notification system through which you can quickly pay, with your credit card, a license after illegal use. Sometimes the lawyer costs of the respective company are also requested.
Modifying the image represents the creation of a derivative work. The author’s consent is needed here as well. If I have the consent for use as such on the site, it is not certain that I am allowed to modify that image. After all, the terms and conditions of the network from which they take the image, or other conditions from the image owner’s account, can explain whether or not the image can be modified. In principle, the need for an agreement for use applies to anyone, individuals, legal entities, or public entities (mayors, prefecture, government, state). However, there are some rare exceptions to the author’s consent. For example, images may be used without the author’s consent, in university courses, for training and education purposes. Also, images can be reproduced and shown to the public, without the need for any agreement, in libraries.
Some more common situations: if I take an image from a public Facebook account and send it via WhatsApp to friends, it is a violation. If I take an image from Instagram, from a public account, and send it via WhatsApp, I don’t need the author’s consent because the Instagram terms are designed to allow use without the author’s consent.
Before using the image, you should be sure that the image does not contain individuals. They have to give their consent separately, even if I have the photographer’s consent to use the image. The same thing must be done if, in the image, there are sculptures, paintings, buildings, etc.; the author of those works of art must be found, and the agreement must be requested for use.
If I take a picture from a website and post it on my Facebook account, it’s a violation. But if the website stipulates in its own terms and conditions that the photos can be used freely, without any other agreement, the decision for use remains a matter of trust. It is possible that the website fraudulently declares that no agreement is required.
If I take an image from a website that sells images, it is essential to look at the conditions of sale. Often, the displayed price covers only private use, not commercial use (for example, inclusion in an advertisement). In the latter case, it is often necessary to contact the seller and explain the necessary use. For example, there will be a price for use per 1000 flyers, but it will be a completely different price for worldwide use on any website.
How do I know that a person is the real author? The answer is difficult because the author is very difficult to identify. Again, it is a matter of trust, up to a point. The author can submit the image to an intellectual property office and, therefore, publicly prove the notion that on a certain date, the image was submitted in his name. A forgery in such conditions would be serious because the alleged perpetrator is exposed to the use of forgery, and the real author will be able to easily accuse the existence of a false statement.