4. I want to use a picture I found on the internet for my design project, is that okay?
For example, you are an author and you have found a picture you think would work perfectly on your book cover. Can you use it? Most importantly, it depends on where on the internet you found it. If you just found it in a Google images search, for example, it is unlikely you can use it. For one thing it is likely to be too low resolution to use (there is a blog post coming on the subject of resolution, so watch this space!). Computer screens only need 72dpi (that’s dots per inch, so the number of dots of ink/colour per square inch), whereas to print well an image needs to be 300dpi. So, if you print a 72dpi image on a book cover the printer will essentially fill in the gaps between those 72 dots with the nearest colour to make it up to 300, and that’s why you get that blocky ‘pixellated’ look. The other reason is copyright. You need permission to use any image in a commercial product, such as a book cover.
There are websites that offer ‘royalty-free’ images, which means that you pay a one-off fee and can use the image under their terms (they usually state the number of printed copies it can be used on, for example). Good, reputable sites like this are https://www.istockphoto.com/gb and https://www.shutterstock.com/home. There are also a number of sites that offer free pictures with copyright permission, you just need to be careful to read the terms and conditions carefully to ensure you are adhering to their rules. For example, they may ask you to credit the site or the copyright holder for the picture, which can be done discreetly on the copyright page of your book, unless it asks for specific placement.
If you have a printed photograph that you’d like to use, if you took it yourself and you have the permission of any persons in the photograph to be featured on the cover, then you’re good to go. If it was taken by someone else, then you’d need to seek their permission (get it in writing and keep it safe). If you don’t know the persons in the photo and you’ve no way of asking their permission, then the best advice is to find an alternative image.
5. This song is awesome, I have to share it!
For example, you are writing a social media post and there’s a song that’s so relevant you just have to share some of the lyrics. Song lyrics have special protection and you should always seek permission to quote them from the copyright holder. This can be the music publisher, or the song writer or sometimes the artist. As it’s complicated it can often be quite a time-consuming and laborious process and can even be costly, as often you need to pay to be able to use them. This applies to something simple like a social media post, or it could be your chapter headings in your book, or a casual reference in your novel, so be careful. It may be unlikely that your post or book or whatever else it may be would cross the path of the copyright holder, but is it really worth the risk of a costly legal battle? And is it morally right to break the law anyway?
Whether it is you thinking of using someone else’s work, for example drawing a Disney character for a customer’s print, or it’s you looking after your own work, make sure you protect yourself. With your own work, add watermarks to images until they’re approved or sold. With your manuscript of your book only send it to trusted people. If you’re asked to use someone else’s images then ensure you have the rights, permissions or licence to do so. If you’re unsure, do your research. If you’re still unsure then you can seek legal advice. If you don’t know whether your design infringes someone else’s work, then perhaps it’s best to play it safe and not do it. The choice is yours.