Can I Use That Picture? This Flowchart Helps You Demystify Copyright Law

UPDATE: the chart was wrong in in more than one way, we took it down. You can still see the original link in the article, but I do not suggest following its advice, you can read more about it here.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding copyright law and when it’s okay or not okay to use photographs that are not your own. Fortunately, Curtis Newbold, AKA The Visual Communications Guy, created this handy flowchart to help you assess when, why, and where you can use certain photographs. If you find yourself frequently questioning the legality (or morality) of resharing an awesome photo you came across on the internet, you may want to bookmark the chart for quick access.

The flowchart  (click here for a big version) makes it easy to understand the differences between Copyright, Fair Use, Creative Commons, and Public Domain–four topics which are often the source of great confusion.  On the flipside of things, the chart may also be useful to photographers who wonder about their own photographs and the purposed in which others may redistribute them.

[ The Visual Communications Guy via PetaPixel, lifehacker]

  • Sd Smart
  • Daniela Bowker

    Heads-up guys: this chart is seriously flawed. Please don’t perpetuate his fallacies. (

    • udi tirosh

      true words, Daniela, thanks for the heads up.

  • Todd Klassy

    And it would be wrong. Please do not disseminate information that will get someone sued.

  • Andy

    Is this correct? Some of the information seems a little questionable.

    “to just hang on your wall, you are usually safe to use the image without permission”

    Really? If I find an image I like, print and hang it on my wall, apparently that is ok. I would have thought that was a form of stealing. Am I getting my wires crossed here?

  • Mark Berry

    My God diyphotography, I’d really expect you to check info like this before sharing it. It is WRONG. It is not just of a different opinion to me or others, it is factually incorrect, and dangerously so.

    • udi tirosh

      definitely, we took it down.

  • Kevin Heyse

    This chart should not be taken as a serious legal guide. There are several major errors which are more a matter of public (or author) opinion, rather than law. Most notably the section under “What if I found the picture on social media or a website?” Even personal and non-commercial use or redistribution can be a violation of copyright.

  • Wil Fry

    Yeah, the whole “I-found-it-on-the-internet-so-it-must-be-free” attitude is getting worse all the time. Imagine if it worked that way for products you see on shopping sites. “Hey, I saw this Canon 5D online, so I can just use it.”

    • gs_790

      This all gets really damaging with the publishing professionals (blogs included) that screw up their rights to use an image. And seriously, it’s really not that hard: if it isn’t public domain, you need to license the image and abide by the contract.

      The big damage comes from how copyright mistakes (actually, we should probably just call it stealing) cascade cascade through social media.

      • Wil Fry

        “…if it isn’t public domain, you need to license the image and abide by the contract…”

        Yes. In almost every case.

        However, I shy away from calling it “stealing” or “theft”, because I’ve been robbed before. When you steal my car, I don’t have a car anymore; I have to buy a new car. When you burglarize my home, I don’t feel safe anymore and have lost other stuff too.

        If you copy my image and use it without permission, it’s definitely unethical (and illegal), but it doesn’t deprive me of the use of the image. I can still use the image I made.

        • CommonSense

          but you don’t get the money you would have by those that use if for free…hence its theft.

          • Wil Fry

            Sure. There’s no question that (if you were actually engaged in money-making via photography) you’re deprived of possible income when someone copies your image.

            During my honeymoon, I made a photo of a distant cruise ship and later posted it to Flickr along with hundreds of other images from the trip. Somehow, that one photo began appearing all over Google search. It was in advertisements, blogs, online magazines, etc. If even one of those usages had paid me for the image instead of copying it freely, I would have had more than the $0 I got.

            On the other hand, I wasn’t planning on selling it anyway; just showing it to friends and family.