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Copyrights and wrongs

Since you were a kid, you’ve been taught that stealing is wrong. Using images without permission is stealing, too. To stay on the right side of the law, you’ll want to understand the terms below.

Comps These are low-resolution images you can use to test the image in your design. Once you’ve got the right one, buy the image.

Copyright As soon as it’s created, every image is protected by a copyright automatically granted to its owner by Title 17 of the U.S. Code ( get more information ).

Fair Use You can use copyrighted material on a limited basis without obtaining permission, but only for noncommercial comment, criticism, news reporting, scholarship, classroom use, or research.

Property Release Some properties—buildings, artwork, or other objects—require a release for use of their images in any advertising. The famous Hollywood sign is a good example. Even if you take the photo yourself, you cannot use an image of that sign commercially without permission from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Public Domain Copyright protection doesn’t last forever. After it expires—typically 70 years after the creator’s death—the image enters the public domain. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the image is free, though. The company that stores and collects these images might charge you for its trouble. All the sources I’ve listed here include general rights for all images or specific rights information for each image.

Rights Protected (or Rights Managed) Some images are licensed for a specific usage within a specific time frame.

Royalty Free These images aren’t necessarily free, but once you buy one, you can use it as many times and in as many different ways as you like.

[ Jennifer Wills is a graphic designer, a professional photographer, and the president of the design firm W+W Design, based in Santa Cruz, California. ]

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