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Thou Shalt Not Steal

Last month I wrote about where to find images for your Web site. This month I want to write about where NOT to find them.

It's so easy and so tempting to borrow that perfect image when you see it online. The only problem is that it's almost certainly a violation of copyright law. You aren't borrowing; you're stealing.

You may have heard about exceptions that let you borrow online images, but they're often more like urban legends than legal loopholes. Maybe you've been told that if you use a thumbnail-sized version of a full image, or just a small part of an image, or if you adjust it by a certain percentage, then borrowing is protected as 'fair use' of copyrighted material. Or you may have heard that images without a copyright symbol are automatically part of the public domain, and therefore okay to borrow. In reality you should assume that none of these tactics will protect you from a crippling lawsuit--especially if you're using images for commercial purposes.

If you really need someone else's images, ask for permission. If you can't get permission but still want to use them, consult your attorney. And if paying an attorney for advice about an image sounds too expensive, then you definitely can't afford to pay one to defend you in court.

Jennifer Frost is Art Director at Register.com.

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