Whether you’re putting together a permanent exhibit or a last-minute powerpoint, it’s all but inevitable that you’ll encounter a point at which the most sensible option is to use material that someone else created. This is more frequently the case with images since they’re usually harder to recreate yourself. And in the age of Google Images and instant screenshots, there’s almost nothing in practical terms that can stop you from using any picture you want. Here at Talk Science however, we recommend being careful with your media usage—and we negotiate image permission for many of our clients.
If that sounds a bit doom and gloom, here’s some encouragement: For those who need a quick fix for unrestricted content, there is a database of Creative Commons licensed images. The Creative Commons website itself has a nice summary of CC licenses, and a search function so that you can easily filter for the images that suit your licensing needs; it can sort through Google Images, Flickr, and other popular image databases by content and license type.
That being the case, why restrict yourself only to free stuff? Sometimes—like in these blog posts—it really is the way to go. But in professional applications, it’s often worth paying the going rate for the perfect image. And most “perfect” images aren’t especially cheap to produce. Nature photographer Alex Wild estimates the minimum rate that can keep him solvent at $105 per image. And he shows the math as well. His economics might be vulnerable to critique, but if anyone has a similarly rigorous argument for why they shouldn’t have to compensate Wild at all, I’d love to hear it.
And suppose the anarcho-syndicalists rise up tomorrow and finally smash the state. Suppose that in the subsequent utopia, copyright is totally abolished. No more restrictions of any kind. In that world, Talk Science would still be securing permission for every single image we use, because it’s the right thing to do. Why do it any other way?