Internet images are afforded the same copyright protections as images that appear elsewhere in the world, including photos, paintings and drawings. The biggest difference is that on the Internet, images are easy to copy and distribute, whether the person who created the image wants you to or not.
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Creating a Copyright Image for the Internet
As soon as an image---such as a photograph, a sketch or an animated graphic---is created, it is considered a copyright work. The artist, or the person or organisation that commissioned the image, may place a copyright mark (a c in a circle) on or near the image to indicate it is a copyright work. It is, however, difficult to prove copyright ownership without registering the image with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Length, or Term, of Copyright
If the owner of the copyright is the person who created the image, the image is copyrighted for 70 years after her death. If the image was commissioned by an individual or an organisation, it is copyrighted for 95 years after it was first published, or 120 years after it was created, whichever comes first.
Use of Copyright Images on the Internet
The copyright owner may choose from a variety of options when placing an image on the Internet. He may decide to fully protect his copyright using the language "all rights reserved" near the copyright notice. He may decide to distribute the image under one of over a dozen Creative Commons licenses, which dictate the terms for sharing images, altering them, commercial use and more.
He may give up copyright entirely and freely distribute the image for reuse in the public domain. If copyright is surrendered, another individual may not file a copyright application on the image. He may also elect to distribute the image via one of many stock photo sites on the Internet (see Resource), some of which pay a nominal fee to the creator if an image is purchased.
Registering a Copyright Online
To register a copyright online, visit the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) section of Copyright.gov, file the appropriate fee and upload the image in a common digital format, such as jpg, gif or png.
Registering a Copyright by Mail
To register an image by mail, fill out Form VA or its replacement, fill-in Form CO, and send the appropriate fee with two copies of the image to:
Library of Congress Copyright Office 101 Independence Ave., SE Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
Copyright protections do not apply to the U.S. government. Images on the Internet from the government may be freely used and redistributed.
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