Several key issues regarding image copyright infringement disputes

By Li Binxin and Shang Guangzhen, AnJie Law Firm

Q: Are all online images protected by the law? A: As images (usually divided into artistic works and photographic works) generally involve their creators’ unique decisions as to the scene, angle and various variables during their creation, they are generally deemed as works under the definition of and protected by the Copyright Law. However, there are limitations. The public can, to a great extent, freely use images that have exceeded the period of protection set by the Copyright Law, and can use the images within fair use scope provided by the Copyright Law.

李斌馨 LI BINXIN 安杰律师事务所合伙人 Partner AnJie Law Firm
AnJie Law Firm

Q: Can online “orphan” images be used?

A: Many images found through a search engine or posted on image websites without an ownership mark (i.e., a watermark) are usually called “orphan” images. Many internet users (including enterprises and individuals) believe that the orphan images that they are using do not have an author or are deemed to provide a licence by the copyright holder. This, however, is not so. Under the Copyright Law, an author may not sign his or her work and the fact that such a work can be found through a search engine does not imply that an author has licensed the work to others.

The Copyright Law sets out the circumstances under which fair use is permitted. Currently there are some websites, such as Getty Images, that permit internet users to use images in their image libraries with certain restrictions (e.g., non-commercial use). We recommend that internet users do not use so-called orphan images without an authorization check. Before using them, efforts should be made to confirm that such use falls within the scope of fair use under the Copyright Law, or to determine the extent and manner of using such images by reviewing the relevant agreement provided on the website or the image source provided by the search engine. We also recommend acquiring relevant copyrights such as via image companies before using these images.

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Li Binxin is a partner and Shang Guangzhen is an associate at AnJie Law Firm

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