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One Picture May Be Worth A Thousand Headaches

John Billington explains why free images may not be necessarily free or even copyright free.

John Billington is Product Manager, New Media at Copyright Clearance Center, the world's leader in innovative copyright solutions including ReadyImages.

ReadyImages is a source of pre-cleared images for use in presentations and other corporate communications.

In this guest post, John Billington explains why a picture may be worth a thousand headaches, especially if you are not aware of how copyrights work.

Four potential pitfalls to consider when using images in presentations

Pictures make presentations work. But the most interesting and compelling images aren't generally found in free clipart galleries. So you comb the Internet, looking for just the right image to convey your message. Click-cut-paste. You've got it!

While you may have “it”, that “it” is more than likely the copyright-protected work of a photographer or designer. Even for department presentations, sales presentations, training materials, and other internal business purposes, using images without the proper permission and rights is a serious issue, and may constitute a breach of the creator's copyright.

1. Free images aren't necessarily free

There are millions of images out there, free for the Googling. Images are available on: Web portals like Yahoo, MSN, AOL; image search sites, such as Google Images and PicSearch; photo sharing services, including Flickr and Picasa Web Albums; and the list goes on.

None of these sources make it easy for you to get permission to use an image for business purposes. It's far easier to ignore that little warning: “image may be subject to copyright,” and just go ahead and help yourself.

Even if an image is freely available on the Web, that actually doesn't mean you can freely use it. Drill down and take a look at the source of a photo, and you will often find that the image's owner wants to know who's interested in using the image and for what purpose. Many photographers allow you to use their work for non-commercial purposes, but expect to be compensated if you put that image to commercial use – even if that commercial use is within the walls of your organization. Other photographers may restrict even non-commercial use without express permission.



2. What happens within your company doesn't always stay within your company

Within seconds of an event or a political gaffe, the news is all over the Web. Presentations aren't usually quite that viral, but even presentations intended for a small audience can quickly find wide distribution. For example: an employee sends an internal presentation to a sales prospect. Or maybe someone “borrows” a few slides for a presentation they plan to deliver at an upcoming tradeshow. The images used in these presentations—sources long since forgotten—are now being disseminated inside and outside your corporate walls. Without the proper permission to do this, you can open up a whole can of copyright worms.

3. Sharing isn't always the right thing to do

Yes, for the most part mom and your kindergarten teacher were right when they told you that it's nice to share. And in today's collaborative workplace, sharing is critical to many of the functions required to stay competitive in the corporate environment. But most of those enticing images on the Internet are not actually ours to share unless we obtain the appropriate permission. Thanks to awareness raised by Napster and KAZAA, most of us understand the issues around sharing music and video. Many people also understand the copyright issues involved with using and distributing published written materials and software. Yet that same level of awareness doesn't always exist when it comes to using images.

To include images in presentations and other company communications, organizations need to ensure they have obtained the rights to copy, distribute and display those images, even if the image is free. Photographers, illustrators and other rightsholders can and do track—by tagging, watermarking and other technical means—who uses their images. While it may seem impossible for rightsholders to know if you include unlicensed photos in an internal presentation, once you hit “send” with that presentation attached, it is out of your control – yet still your responsibility. To protect you and your organization, be sure to confirm that you have permission to use and share images before you hit “send.”

4. Not all licenses are the same

Chances are, you've visited the popular image source Flickr to search for photos. While you can find some great shots on Flickr, those images are often licensed through a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use.

There are other significant issues to consider when using Flickr images. For example, you have no way of knowing for certain whether the person who holds the Creative Commons license is the person who actually holds the copyright for that image.

Another major issue with both Flickr and stock image services centers around third party rights, such as model and property releases. Virgin Mobile of Australia learned this the hard way when it downloaded a picture from Flickr and used it in a rather unflattering billboard campaign. The parents of the subject of the photo, a then 15-year old girl, sued Virgin Mobile. While the photographer of the photo owned the copyright in the photo and made it available for use under a Creative Commons license that permitted commercial use, he hadn't obtained either a parental consent release or a model release before making the photo available on Flickr.

Stock image services offer some level of commercial usage rights, which is helpful, but terms and conditions can vary significantly, creating both confusion and higher image prices. The frequency and types of use, formats, audience type and size are all considered in stock image pricing.


John Billington (Glossary Page)