Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Can We Use Author Photos and Quotes?

Dear Rich: We're designing a website for our business, and are in need of some basic guidelines to avoid copyright and trademark violations. Specifically, can photos be used that show up in Google Image searches? Also, can I post a picture of an author and/or quote him/her? What about a company logo -- what is the least expensive way of creating one? We're looking for a little excitement today, so we'll answer your questions in reverse order.
Creating a logo inexpensively. Have you tried typing "create company logo" into your search engine of choice? You should find many businesses that advertise this service for under $50. Our caveat is to avoid using a logo that resembles a competitor's trademark. Learn more about trademarks here.
Can you post a picture of an author and/or quotation? The quote will be fine (read more here) but you may run into problems if the photo of the author is protected by copyright (see below).
Can photos be used that show up in Google Image searches? Copyright law -- we're going to assume you're not familiar with the principles -- enables the copyright owner (often the photographer) to stop others from using the image without permission. So, if you use an image that shows up in Google Image Search and it is protected by copyright, the owner can hassle you and possibly seek compensation for the unauthorized use. (You'll note that when you click on an image in Google Image Search, you may see the message "Images may be subject to copyright.") You don't need to ask permission for images that are in the public domain, a status achieved by old age (or related factors -- for example, if the copyright owner has dedicated the work to the public domain). Alternatively, the owner may retain ownership but permit commercial uses under a Creative Commons license (attribution is typically required). In either case, the rules are complex and often confusing. Some sites offer a wealth of public domain materials and others claim to offer "copyright-free" materials although the pedigree is sometimes difficult to verify. Usually the safest route is to pay for photos at a site such as For more specific information, we suggest you hop on your favorite search engine (or pick up our book on permissions).