1. Know General Signs of a Protected Image

– watermarks: overlays of a symbol or text that may be hidden covertly or displayed upfront to protect an image from being used without owner’s approval

-a copyright symbol located on the image

-a note indicating ownership or sourcing of the image

-an official copyright listing in the Copyright office

it’s not yours. Although not all images have been “officially” copyrighted, at the creation of an image, the snap of a picture, the work has immediately become copyrighted and the owner is the only person with a legal right to distribute, replicate, or display the work.

2. Research to Determine if an Image is Copyrighted

Visit the U.S. Copyright office or request an official report. I highly recommend step 1 (above) for several reasons. You may visit the United States’ Copyright Office to conduct a free search of copyrighted files. If you would like to request an official report from U.S. Copyright Office records, be prepared to spend roughly $165 or more per hour (with a two hour minimum) based on search fees.

3. Just Ask!

Always obtain permission from the owner of the piece if you did not find it on a public domain or with creative commons licensingUnfortunately, tacking on a simple disclaimer or attribution doesn’t make an image legal for use. And, it isn’t always clear if an image has been officially copyrighted. In these cases, it is important to inquire the owner of property rights and usage. 

For some websites with copyright free images or audio, visit the Free to Use section on the menu.