What is fair use?
Your copyrighted photos can be copied and used without your permission in some cases. "A fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited or 'transformative' purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize or parody a copyrighted work," wrote Attorney Richard Stim in his extensive copyright book "Getting Permission." He then notes millions of dollars have been spent in courts trying to define fair use rights on a case-by-case basis.
He said a judge will consider the purpose of using your photo, the nature of your photo, the percentage of your photos used and potential limits on your profitability.
Fair use laws offer some protection for news reporting, critical reviews and education. For example, a teacher is allowed to use most images in a classroom slideshow, but not in a textbook.
Here are a couple of other significant fair use photography decisions, both from Stim's book.
• Internet search engines are legally allowed to use thumbnail images because they are so small and low-quality that they do not limit the commercial market for the photos.
• Advertisements for "Naked Gun 33 1/3" superimposed Leslie Neilsen's face on a famous photo of a pregnant Demi Moore. The court called the use parody.