Let's say you're a blogger and you frequently use screen capture software to take screenshots. You take a couple shots of Lady Gaga from her official website and post them to your blog, along with a scathing critique of her latest tour. You call her a talentless hack with as much fashion sense as a porcupine.

A few weeks later, a letter arrives in the mail from the lawyer of Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga. It directs you to remove the copyrighted images that were taken from Lady Gaga's website. The letter threatens legal action if the photos are not removed immediately. What do you do?

A. Remove the photos.
B. Go to her website, find the most unflattering photos you can and post them onto your blog.
C. Nothing.

In all honesty, you could choose any of the three, but choices B and C are best. They do not run afoul of copyright law. That means in the case mentioned above, you would be within the law to post copyrighted screenshots of Lady Gaga to your blog.

You could choose A, and remove the photos from your blog, but that would not be necessary. Use of images in this case, even though they are copyrighted and appear with an unflattering critique, falls within fair use doctrine, found in Section 107 of the U.S. copyright law.

That section outlines when you can use images that are owned by others, or in other words, when it's considered "fair use." That includes if a reproduction is used for comment, criticism, news reporting, scholarship, teaching and research. The case mentioned above is clearly criticism. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, there are four factors listed in copyright law to determine fair use:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of 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.
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

If you're trying to make a clear and direct profit from a screenshot you took of a copyrighted image or website or video or document, then you may be breaking the law.

No one enforces copyright law, which is to say there are no copyright police scanning the internet and websites or hardcopy materials to see if images have been misappropriated. Copyright law is enforced by litigation. Past court rulings have defined copyright law.

When it comes down to it, money usually is the driving factor behind copyright lawsuits. If your screenshot hasn't diminished the earnings of the image you've taken and if you're not making money directly from that image, you probably won't be challenged. And even if you are, you'll likely receive a letter asking you to remove the images in question, before any legal action is initiated. So if you're a blogger or anyone who takes screenshots or captures images from the web without commercial intent, feel free to go Gaga and use the best screenshots you need.


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