To the dismay of schoolteachers everywhere, the Internet has made copying simpler than ever. With a single click, entire passages of a research paper can be lifted from Wikipedia; someone else's photo can be saved as your own; and all of this can happen countless times per day. The growing ease of copying digital content has led to increased confusion about fair use and obtaining permission, particularly when using images.
Fortunately, blogger Curtis Newbold (a.k.a. The Visual Communication Guy) is here to help. Lifehacker recently highlighted his detailed July 2014 flowchart, Can I Use That Picture? The Terms, Laws, and Ethics for Using Copyrighted Images. The flowchart walks novice would-be image users through the minefield of fair use considerations, Creative Commons attribution, and stock photo licensing. "My rule above all else?" he concludes: "Ask permission to use all images. If in doubt, don't use the image!"
Want to use a particular image, but are unsure where it may have originated? Google's Reverse Image Search allows you to upload an image file or search a link to an image on a website in order to track down similar images on the web. This may also be an effective way to locate a higher-resolution version of the image you want, determine its owner for permissions purposes – or even, perhaps, discover whether someone might be using your own photos for their online dating profile (or other unsavory purposes).
More information about copyright clearance can be found in the Nolo Press title Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off (Ref. KF3002 .S75 2007 & 2013 ed. online via Legal Information Reference Center). For other treatises on copyright law, visit the Goodson Law Library's research guide to Intellectual Property Law or Ask a Librarian.