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Image Copyright : Copyright

This guide deals with the complex subject of online image copyright and provides useful information and tips about how to use online images.

What is copyright?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture (source: US Copyright Office).


Copyright, published by, licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0

Copyright Logo

Copyright Logo, published by Wikimedia Commons

What does the copyright protect?

The aim of copyright is to protect original creative works.

According to the US Copyright Office, the following works are protected:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings, which are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds
  • Architectural works

However, copyright does not protect ideas, methods of operation, systems or facts.

When a work becomes copyrighted and how?

The copyright is implied and a work becomes copyrighted immediately in the moment of its creation. Copyright is an automatic right but registering a piece of work with the US Copyright Office is voluntary.

The symbol © indicates that a work is copyrighted, but since 1989 this is no longer required. So even if you don’t see this symbol, this doesn’t mean that this work is not under copyright.

You are free to place a © on any of your work, but if in future you need to bring a lawsuit for infringement of the work you created, you will have to register it first.

Duration of copyrights

In general, the copyright is in effect immediately from the time the author creates it, until the author’s death, plus another 70 years after that.

However, it depends on the publishing time of the work and on the way it was published, and whether it has been renewed. If you collaborate with other people to create something, then the copyright is in effect throughout the life of the creator who lives the longest, and remains in effect for 70 years after that person’s death.

It is also possible to sell or transfer the copyrights to others. For example, this is the case with book publishing when the author sells the copyrights to the publishing house. Another possibility is to bequeath the copyrights of an unpublished work to your heirs.   

The copyright owner

The author of the original work is the owner of the copyrights. If the authors are more than one, then they all share the copyrights for the work they created. If the work you’ve created is a part of your job, then this is a work made for hire, and the company/employer owns the copyright.

Rights of the copyright owner

The Copyright Act gives the following rights to a copyright owner:

  • to reproduce the copyrighted work.
  • to prepare derivative works based upon the work.
  • to distribute copies of the work to the public.
  • to perform the copyrighted work publicly.
  • to display the copyrighted work publicly.
  • to perform work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.


Butcher, S. D. (n.d.) Stop, Don’t Post that Photo: Understanding Copyrights & Usage. Retrieved from

Wood, M. A. (2019, July 15). Copyright Explained For Students: Don’t Get Caught Out. Retrieved from

Prager, D. (2019, January 25). A Guide to Online Images Copyright and Fair Use Laws. Retrieved from