A Guide to Not Ending up in Jail For Stealing Digital Images

If your small library is like mine then there is a very unlikely chance that you have one of these job titles on your staff roster: Digital Initiatives Team Leader; eContent Specialist; Digital Asset Specialist; Digital Library Services Manager; Electronic Resources Specialist; eContent/Metadata Strategist; Attorney at Law; Supreme Allied Commander. Woops, that last one was Eisenhower’s title during World War II. You have to admit that IS a cool title!

My point is that in small libraries employees wear many hats. As a director in a small library, my day consists of selecting materials, unplugging toilets, shoveling snow, going to Rotary and other community meetings, checking materials for bed bugs, working on the budget, writing press releases, and taping magazines. The list goes on and on, but that is the way I like it. In our neck of the woods the title Librarian is as good as it gets because a librarian can do it all. Now that we all live in the digital age where it is expected that all libraries have a vivid website and a hip social media presence, it can be challenging to know how to handle the legalities of copyright, plagiarism, and fair use. Am I allowed to raid Google Images for a picture that I need for a library poster? It is Christmas Day. Can I search the web for a Christmas picture and plop it on our library’s Facebook page to wish everyone a Merry Christmas? Can I use that funny library eCard on our website?

I will stop you right there. If you are looking at me to give you a hard and fast answer then you are out of luck. Depending on the situation and who you talk to, the legality of using an image you did not create in the public library can be very hazy. The only true advice I can give you is this: If in doubt, do NOT use the image. You can use me as an example. A year into my position as library director at Dover I tried to set up this tech service called “Ask the Computer Guy.” The idea was to have a tech person on hand on Saturday mornings that was available in case the public had any tech related issues. Patrons would come in with eReaders, smartphones, laptops, etc., and Rob would sit down with them and help them out. The problem was that I pulled an image off of Google to use in promoting the service. The image had no copyright or trademark, so I thought I was in good shape. One day while browsing the library’s Facebook page, I noticed a comment by an outraged man, (who claims he was the artist who came up with the image I was using), stating he was appalled that a public library would “steal” his image. I, of course, changed the posting restrictions on our Facebook page, contacted the man and apologized, and smoothed things over. Moral of the story: I learned my lesson. I knew I had to get a better grasp on the use of images that I, or my staff, did not create.

Therefore, in the absence of a copyright attorney or digital images specialist, I will provide some links for those who want to know more about what they can and cannot use:

http://thevisualcommunicationguy.com/2014/07/14/can-i-use-that-picture/

http://lifehacker.com/5992419/the-best-ways-to-be-sure-youre-legally-using-online-photos

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-for-online-images/

http://libguides.mit.edu/usingimages

http://www.designskilz.com/free-photos/

Good luck and choose your images wisely!

Jim Gill, Director
Dover Public Library, OH

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1 Comment

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One response to “A Guide to Not Ending up in Jail For Stealing Digital Images

  1. Thank you Jim for your timely post most people I think forget there are rules to follow and should be careful what they download.
    The digital world while it has made most things available in an instant we tend to forget someone created that image etc and should be recognised

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