Online, you can find sticker sets that are very expensive in some shops and you can find a ton of bloggers and designers who give their work away for free. And we love them all.
But I want to issue a word of caution about copyright violations.
Artists' and designers' work is copyrighted. There is nothing they have to do to make it so. It just is.
To quote Social Media Examiner: "You’ve heard the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, but when that picture is protected by copyright, the picture is only worth three words: cease and desist."
I guess it's the journalism teacher in me, the one who warned students daily about using images and words that did not belong to them, and to protect their own images and words, that sends up red flags and "NO" signs whenever I see freebies being distributed with copyrighted character images on them.
No...they are not being sold. The person making the freebies is not looking to make a profit off the work of others. But it is still a copyright violation. And it could end up costing the violator big money if the copyright owner decides to take action.
Copyright laws are not in place to deny the right of the public to use them, but to encourage their creation. Creators of the work, or if the creator sells the rights to that work, the new copyright holder(s) have the exclusive right to determine how the work will be used. Just because images of Mickey Mouse, Mario Brothers, My Little Pony, Harley Quinn and others show up in a Google search and they don't have something that says copyright or © on it, does not mean they are free for the taking and can be shared with others on your own creations.
Article I, Section 8, clause 8, of the US Constitution says that copyright laws were created to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
Depending on their contracts with others, artists and designers earn a living from their creations. When someone takes an image from them and uses it for their own purposes and distributes it to others, even as a freebie, it is just as if they entered the designer's home and stole works of art and gave them away.
There is nothing wrong with grabbing an image off the web and using it for YOUR OWN PERSONAL use. If you are not sharing it, but you just want a spread with Disney characters for your own planner, you are breaking no laws. But when you put those characters on a sheet and distribute them, you are violating someone else's copyright. It hurts their business, and it could affect your own pocketbook if the copyright holder thinks it would be in their best interest to sue. While this doesn't happen often with private individuals, it has happened.
Even using the characters on a spread you post or using them in a video to explain how to decorate a planner puts you in violation. If you don't own the copyright, it's better to find something else that will not be in violation.
Are there ways to legally use copyrighted images? Yes.
Let's look at what Legal Zoom says about Disney characters, since they are among the most popular characters used on free printables.
"Disney protects its characters with trademark and copyright registrations. A trademark protects a brand name, while a copyright protects an original work such as a movie or book. The owner of a trademark or copyright registration for a fictional character can prevent others from using the character without permission. For example, Disney holds trademark and copyright registrations for Snow White, a Disney fairy tale character. In 1989, Disney sued the Academy of Arts and Sciences when the Academy used an entertainer to portray Snow White without Disney's permission in its opening number for an Academy Awards telecast.PermissionOne way to legally use Disney characters is by getting permission to use them from Disney Enterprises. A variety of Disney corporate entities own the intellectual property rights to Disney characters.
"The official Disney website can help you determine who owns rights to the character you wish to use and how to seek permission to legally use the character. You may receive permission in the form of a letter or an email message. Disney may require an individual or organization that wants to make extended commercial use of Disney characters to enter into a licensing agreement where the user pays Disney for rights to use the character. Disney may also refuse to give you permission to use its characters."
So, you can get permission to use the characters, but it will probably cost you more money than it is worth for a free printable.
Another way to legally use copyrighted material is through Fair Use, which means basically that there are fair and legal uses to a work as long as they do not interfere with the copyright holder's interests.
Online product reviews, for example, make use of the fair use doctrine. This means that a book or movie reviewer can use copyrighted and trademarked items as part of the review. Teachers can use copyrighted characters for instructional purposes, within reason.
Section 107 of the Copyright Act states: "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."
Distribution of free printables to the public does not fall under fair use.
Folks who sell their work are subject to the same restraints as freebie-makers. If they use copyright images, they need to make sure they obtain the proper licensing to use the work commercially. Some artists on Etsy, for example, will include a limited commercial license with the price of the artwork, but they tell you specifically how it is to be used (or not used). Some will require that you purchase additional licensing in order to use the work commercially.
It is up to the artist to determine how their work will be used, and many specifically state NOT to use it to create freebies. Why? Because it lessens the value of the work they have put into its creation. It affects their livelihood.
Just because a clipart doesn't have the copyright mark on it does not mean it is not copyrighted. There are images in the public domain that can be used freely for any purpose. But unless a creator immediately releases their work into the public domain, it is copyrighted automatically. The artist does not have to register it, although many do take that precaution.
Some artists protect their work by mailing a copy of it to themselves in an envelope with the postage mark, keeping it sealed until a time that they may need to prove that they created it.
The good news is that there are websites that do give you permission to use their work in your freebies and in commercial work, but there are strings attached. For instance, Freepik.com has thousands of images that are free for you to use, so long as you give credit to Freepik. They also host other images, from other websites, which may be subject to their own copyright restrictions, so be sure to check before using them. With Freepik, you can download and use images freely if you give credit. If you don't want to give credit, they are cool with that as well, so long as you pay a $9.99 membership fee per month.
Some websites have clipart you can use for personal use for free, but the individual artists have their own rules. One such site is Deviantart.com. There are others out there that will allow you to use their work, but may have strings attached.
Just be sure you respect the rights of the artist/copyright holder, because when you create something, the same respect is due you.
Again from Social Media Examiner:
"One of the many terrific things about copyright is that it comes with a host of exclusive rights that allow the owner to do or authorize a number of things and exercise substantial control over his or her work.
"The copyright owner has the right to do four things (called exclusive rights):
- Reproduce the copyrighted work;
- Display the copyrighted work publicly;
- Prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; and
- Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale, rental or lending, and/or to display the image."
So...if you are not licensed to use an art work and you don't have permission from the artist or copyright holder, you will be violating their copyright if you use the work and distribute it to others. And you run the risk of financial liabiity.
What does that last part mean exactly?
"The legal penalties for copyright infringement are: Infringer pays the actual dollar amount of damages and profits. The law provides a range from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed. Infringer pays for all attorneys fees and court costs.
Copyright Infringement Penalties - Purdue Universityhttps://www.lib.purdue.edu/uco/CopyrightBasics/penalties.html