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Brooklyn, NY |

I have downloaded pictures from an internet site and it said :

License: Public Domain Dedication "You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission."

Am I free to use these pictures on my Facebook page or on a book cover or anywhere else ?

Thank you for your reply

Attorney Answers 3

Posted

There are two reasons why you should NOT rely on the blurb you quote as permission to freely copy and display the photographs published on that website.

First, you have NO basis on which to conclude that the website owner has the right to either dedicate the photographs to the public domain or to convey the license that it does via that blurb. There are MILLIONS of websites that publish photographs they have no legal right to publish. And even unsophisticated copyright owners know to use the words “public domain” or to affix a copyright notice to their works and then use a Creative Commons license process to grant others the right to use their works. The use of the rinky-dink blurb that you quote should RAISE your suspicions, not give you a warm fuzzy feeling.

Second, the owner of the copyright in a photograph has the exclusive right to:
(1) reproduce the photograph,
(2) make derivative works based on the photograph,
(3) distribute the photograph, and
(4) display the photograph publicly.

The copyright license that the blurb you quote grants does NOT include the right for others to DISPLAY the photographs – which you would be doing if you published the photographs via ‘Facebook page or on a book cover or anywhere else.” Any such display by you would be outside this rinky-dink license.

Do not copy or publish the photographs you see on that website. Have your own copyright attorney check it out first.

The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.

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3 comments

Frank A. Natoli

Frank A. Natoli

Posted

I don't disagree with you, but your answer presents the framework for a bigger problem: how then is one assured that even if they pay for a license that the business that presented the image has the right to license it out? Further, one who seeks royalty-free images typically (I am generalizing here) will not have the funds to hire a lawyer to check anything out. So if I go to an open-source resource for images how best can I determine whether the image I want is free for me to use if I cannot rely on the language of their disclaimers? Again, I don't disagree with your remarks, but at the same time I think it is a great idea to encourage the free use of images so bootstrapping entrepreneurs can avoid copyright trolls, etc.

Brian Kenneth Dinicola

Brian Kenneth Dinicola

Posted

Excellent comment from Attorney Natoli, here. At the end of the day, the asker would at least be operating under a good faith belief that the photos were in the public domain (a belief which could be reinforced by doing an image search on Google to see how many other folks were using the images, and whether there had been any prior enforcement activity). Copyright law has always limited remedies against innocent infringers, were it to turn out to be the case, and if the use of the pictures were ongoing and wide spread, there are some great estoppel/laches defenses as well, There are risks in all activities, but in this case they can be managed with a bit of due diligence. That being said, I have in the past counseled against the analogous use of open source software in commercial products on the basis that the code has no pedigree and comes without any warranty whatsoever as to who all the authors who may have contributed to the code were (and therefore who may have independently assertable rights in it).b

Daniel Nathan Ballard

Daniel Nathan Ballard

Posted

I think the "innocent infringer" analysis is whether the alleged infringer had an OBJECTIVE good faith belief that his use was not infringing. There must be facts, therefore, to support that good faith belief. The blurb the Questioner quotes is one such fact. But like the dog that didn't bark, in this scenario the lack by the alleged owner of the photographs of the phrase "public domain" or his use of any of the reputable and very well-known in the industry Creative Commons public use licenses and his failure to include the display right in his conveyance of rights [which, for photographs, is critical] and the fact that there are literally millions of websites that claim what they publish can be lawfully re-published are all facts that cut against a user's good faith reliance on the blurb to conclude that he can freely and lawfully copy and publish the photographs. Especially for commercial purposes because that takes the alleged infringer from hobbiest to businessman which raises his due diligence bar substantially. And there are very, long-established legal alternatives in the form of stock photography companies. As to your larger point, yes, requiring users of other's photographs to do some due diligence imposes a burden. But that's just fine.

Posted

Yes, if it is really in the public domain by dedication by the real copyright owner.

This is not a legal advice or solicitation, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Consult with an attorney. I work for Cardinal Risk Mangement and Cardinal Intellectual Property, IP service companies, but not law firms. I also am the president of Vepachedu Educational Foundation Inc., which is a non profit educational foundation. I also write cultural and scientific compliations for the foundation. I also teach at Northwestern university as a guest lecturer. I also provide some pro-bono guidance on immigration and other issues through Indian American Bar Association. I also have a contract with Cardinal Law Group, a law firm, for IP projects. All this information is on my profile at Avvo and also at Linkedin. Any views/opinions expressed in any context are my personal views in individual capacity only, and do not represent the views and opinions of any firm, client, or anyone else, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them in any way.

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Posted

The owner of a copyrighted work is certainly entitled to place it into the public domain, and it appears that the owner has done just that. Looks like a green light, assuming that the person making the pictures available is true owner of them.

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