I mean if it’s on the internet, that means its in the public domain? Right?
THAT WOULD BE A NO!
Let’s look at it from a different perspective. Say you just finished grooming a dog and the owner comes to pick him up. And then proceeds to walk out the door without paying. When you question it, the owner replies, “I found you on the internet and therefore you are in the public domain and I don’t have to pay you.”
SEE THE PROBLEM.
Somebody took that picture you found on a google search. It is the intellectual property of the person who took the photo unless other arrangements were made between the photographer and another person. And just like you want to get paid for the service you provided, the same goes for the photographer.
WHAT IS PUBLIC DOMAIN?
Public Domain is a legal term. It refers to works, such as photographs, manuscripts, and so forth whose exclusive intellectual property rights (copyrights) have expired, forfeited, waived, or not applicable. You can use a photo that is in the public domain, but you cannot own it.
WHICH BRINGS US TO COPYRIGHT.
A copyright is automatically applied when a work is published. Published includes being uploaded to the internet. The bigger question is how long does it last. Anything before 1923 is in the public domain. Between 1922 to 1977, is protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If published after 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
SOME EXAMPLES OF PUBLIC DOMAIN:
This photo was taken by NASA. The copyright was waived.
This photo was taken in 1918. Any copyright has expired.
You want to use nice photographs for your website and social media, but now you’re informed.
What are your options?
Stock photos come from photo stock companies such as DepositPhotos and Shutterstock (paid), or Pixabay and Pexels (free mostly.) These companies may have rules in place in how to use the photos. They may require attribution ( identify author and service) or restrict their use to social media and websites, but not advertising campaigns. Read the fine print.
Even the paid stock companies are usually nominal in cost.
This is an example of a free stock photo from Pixabay. This photo requires no attribution and can be used commercially. If I’m so inclined I can buy the photographer a cup of coffee.
SERIOUSLY, WHAT COULD THE OWNER OF THE PHOTOGRAPH REALLY DO ANYWAY?
They have several options:
1. They can request that you credit them and/or include a link to their website.
2. Send you via an attorney a DMCA Take-Down Notice Purusant to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) enacted in 1998. It would also be sent to the ISP host as well. If you don't comply, your website host company can legally take down your website.
3. Send an invoice.
4. File a copyright lawsuit.
AND THAT PHOTO THAT WAS FOUND ON A GOOGLE SEARCH IN THE BEGINNING WITHOUT ANY ATTRIBUTION.
Well, that belongs to me. I am the owner of that photograph. It is not in the public domain simply because it was found on a Google search.