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Lets say I write a blog post about the new Batman movie or a the new Grand Theft Auto game and i decide to use the boxart/poster or a wallpaper as the main image for the blog post, can I be sued for breach of copyright on this image?

Im pretty sure Warner Bros are going to be hunting anyone down even if it is legal, but is this actually legal? If i buy the DVD or Game and take a picture of it, is this my copyright? When a trailer gets released and put on youTube, can i take a screenshot of this video and use this as an image?

It seems people can get rightly screwed for this, so I would like to know where i stand on this sort of thing.

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Each country has it's own laws, however, in the U.S., the law is quite clear.

17 U.S.C. § 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.[3]

You have to ask yourself:

Is the work I am producing commercial? If so, then fair use does not apply.

Is the work I am producing transformative? If so then fair use does apply.

Is the work I am producing add value to the original work? If so, then fair use does apply.

If I am commenting, am I commenting on the work itself, or something else? Is the new work itself commenting on the original work, including parody, then fair use does apply.

Am I commenting on the facts or ideas within the work separate from the work? If so, then fair use does apply.

Is the work used copied? If so, then criteria becomes critical. For example:

Is the copied work published and crucial to the original work? If so, then fair use does not apply.

Is the copied work substantial? If so, fair use does not apply. It is one thing to quote a work, but taking substantial portions of the work is not allowed.

How is the work copied? If so, then this also becomes critical. For example:

Is the work covered by license, restrictions, acceptable use policies, etc.? If so, then the license, restriction, or acceptable use policy applies trumps and notion of fair use with legal restriction. This applies specifically to software, web sites, and the like where usage is restricted.

Does the copied portion of work harm the original work? If so, then fair use does not apply. There are two primary considerations: Does the copied work replace or substitute the original?, and Does the copied work harm the original beyond substitution such as licensing, marketing ability, etc.?

Specific to your question:

Assuming, as stated in your question, you are using a movie poster and you are copying it from a website.

Is the source governed by legal restrictions? This would be any acceptable use policy or any other communication. Assuming a website for a moment, this would be the case. If so, then these restrictions do apply and you would live within them.

Am I copying the work from an original source? It is possible that you are copying the work from a location which does not have legal rights to the work. In this case, you should seek out legal representations of the original work.

Is the copied portion of work transformative? In this case, substantiality does apply. For example, you would not be able to copy the image, movie poster, and simply resize it to liking. The resizing would have to be substantial such as a thumbnail image. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_v._Arriba_Soft_Corporation As well, for example, if you were to overlay a user or critics rating over the image, that would be transformative. It is recommended that both concepts be applied to mount an appropriate defense.

Is appropriate credit given to the original work? If so, then fair use is emboldened.

While this answer cannot cover all aspects of the fair use doctrine of the U.S. Copyright laws and I am not a lawyer, it does cover quite a lot. It is your responsibility to ensure that copyright law is followed.

  • This is a fantastic answer. Thank you! The images are coming from a public movie API (themoviedb), but they have a legal thing pretty much saying use at your own risk. In this case I'd say it will be OK to use something like a boxart. I doubt multi million dollar publishers are going to complain about this sort of thing. – Dan Hastings Nov 3 '15 at 16:51
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    Especially if you use a substantially transformative work such as a thumbnail and/or overlay. There is legal precedent established a long time ago that allows websites to use thumbnails. The overlay would be icing on the cake if you can use one. As well, if you can link to the original work owners site (this should be simple to do) as a credit somewhere on your page, then that should help too. – closetnoc Nov 3 '15 at 17:12
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    Not sure how to do it, I know that code can, if you have users rate the item, that rating can overlay the image. Just another thought. It can also be a title, or rate this, or something. Keep in mind that the overlay does not have to fit within the confines of the image (thumbnail) but cover it some in a larger image where the thumbnail is just a part. I do not think crediting the API will stop copyright infringement claims so I would not bother with that. A watermark may not be seen as transformative depending on what it is. To be honest, just a thumbnail or similarly sized image is enough. – closetnoc Nov 3 '15 at 17:32
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    @DanHastings Also keep in mind that the API is likely using a transformative work and not the copyright owner. So it is quite possible that you do not need to do anything at all. – closetnoc Nov 3 '15 at 17:57
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    @DanHastings You are right. I like the idea of overlaying a rating, title, or something else site worthy. But there are, I am sure, other great ideas for this. – closetnoc Nov 3 '15 at 18:06

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