Since the mid-90′s, people have been posting pictures on the internet. And for the same amount of time people have been stealing them for personal and commercial use. Take for instance the thumbnail screenshot from Family Guy below. If I were compiling and printing a book about cartoons, then my use would be infringement. If I were making an advertisement for a magazine, then my use would be infringement. As I am using it as part of critical commentary (or news reporting), then it is an exempted use under 17 U.S.C. § 113(c):
“(c) In the case of a work lawfully reproduced in useful articles that have been offered for sale or other distribution to the public, copyright does not include any right to prevent the making, distribution, or display of pictures or photographs of such articles in connection with advertisements or commentaries related to the distribution or display of such articles, or in connection with news reports.”
In contrast, this blog posting describes how a picture of the author’s son listening to an iPod was taken from the internet and put in print ads [edit: by electronics retailer Vinderen Elektriske]. While the outcome was a settlement by the infringer for $4000, it is still a good example of what not to do. In the article the author indicates that he would have gladly given permission to use the image for much less (in exchange for a Nintendo Wii). Before all the graphic designers out there think that paying only $4k if ever caught is a good risk to take, I would like to point out that this instance was not in the United States, so your mileage may vary. In the U.S. the damages run between $750 and $30,000 per infringement, and up to $150,000 if the infringement is willful. 17 U.S.C. § 504(b),(c). In addition, there is the possibility of criminal charges and jail time of up to one year if for infringement that is a commercial use, such as in the story above.
“(a) Any person who violates section 506 (a) (relating to criminal offenses) of title 17 shall be punished as provided in subsections (b), (c), and (d) and such penalties shall be in addition to any other provisions of title 17 or any other law.
. . .
(3) shall be imprisoned not more than 1 year, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, in any other case.”
18 U.S.C. § 2319(a), (b).