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Picture Copyrights

Learn about picture copyrights, and why you should respect them. Ignoring the ethical and legal results of picture copyrights may put you in a difficult position.


Product/Version: PowerPoint

OS: Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X

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At one extreme is a presentation that is bereft of any visual content, and at the other extreme is a set of slides that have all visuals with little or no text. Yes, we do live in a world of extremes! We are not advocating which is a better approach, but contemporary presenters make sure that they include visuals on their slides. The adage, a picture is worth a thousand words is popular, and yet the truth of that statement may not hold good in at least one scenario:

Where did the visuals or pictures used in a presentation originate from?

Many people use image search options on Google or Bing. When they see the results, they right-click the thumbnail they like and copy the image using a relevant option, as shown in Figure 1, below.

Don't copy images without permission from image searches
Figure 1: Don't copy images without permission from image searches

And then, they paste the image right into their PowerPoint slides!

Before you follow this exact process, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you know that Google and Bing do not own these pictures, and they are merely indexing something from other people's or organization's sites?
  • Do you know that these pictures are all copyrighted, and are owned by either the site owners or have been licensed by them for use on their sites?
  • Do you know that you are breaking the law by using these visual assets in your PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, or Google Slides presentations, or elsewhere?
  • Do you know that there are horror stories of people losing their jobs or life savings just because they used a copyrighted picture, and then had to face legal proceedings? The law does not differentiate even if someone violated the copyrights without being aware.
  • Do you know that just because the chance of being caught and penalized seems low, you still cannot afford the risk? The peace of mind that you attain from knowing that you haven't broken the law is immense.

Everything is a Visual Asset

We use the terms images, pictures, visuals, graphics, and photos interchangeably. All of them are "visual assets."

Now, what if someone unintentionally copied a picture and used it? This approach may work for an 8-year old doing a school classroom project, and even in that scenario, it is debatable if using this option is ethical or not. After all, teachers and parents can guide the child and make him or her aware of what's right or not. These valuable foundations should be taught at a young age.

The worst offenders are presentation creators from the corporate world, who follow the same procedure: copying from Google's and Bing's image search results and pasting within a slide in PowerPoint or another program. The worst part is that many offenders don't believe they are breaking any copyright laws. They mistakenly believe that almost anything on the web is free! Well, this is not true.

Using images from search engine results is not ethical
Figure 2: Using images from search engine results is not ethical

Not Respecting Picture Copyrights: A Story

The secretary inadvertently copied pictures from an image search and pasted them into slides that were to be used by the CEO of the company. The CEO was delivering this presentation at an industry forum.

Now, do you know the source of the pictures? It seems that these pictures were from a competitor's web site! How did the secretary manage to do such a big goof-up? That’s because image search results don't show the source site very prominently! Or maybe the secretary was not worried about locating the source. Had the secretary known that the pictures were from a competing web site, then the story may have turned out differently.

Now, the same competitors were part of the audience that day! The presenting CEO was in a very embarrassing position.

  • Can you imagine that any responsible secretary would do something so foolish?
  • Can you imagine that the CEO never once checked the slides or recognized pictures from the competitor until presenting?

Worse, after ignoring the copyright issue, the CEO recommended his company’s products with images of a competing product!

The sad part is that such occurrences happen more frequently than we can imagine, and not many people worry about such blatant violation of copyrights!

There's no excuse for not worrying about copyrights, especially with the amount of free and low priced visual content that is available. Even if the content was not free or low priced, the loss of reputation and face resulting from such copyright violation is not something any company or professional can disregard.

To know more, do read about Public Domain and Creative Commons articles on this site. You may also want to learn about using photos in presentations.

Picture Basics: Picture Copyrights (Glossary Page)

You May Also Like: Overcoming Clichés in Pictures | Picture Copyrights: An Iceberg Study

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Pictures in Presentations

Is a picture is worth a thousand words? You probably have heard this adage so often that we decided not to repeat this phrase throughout this book! Now here’s some more info: the human brain uses a larger part of its area to store visual information rather than textual content. And that’s possibly because a picture describes so much more than text.

Go and get a copy of our Pictures in Presentations ebook.

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