Bowling Green, KY asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for Kentucky

Q: Is it legal to use pictures found online for private use?

My family and I play dnd as a small group. Is it legal for us to use images from google as tokens for our characters?

The tokens do not get distributed and the images are only seen by us.

Would this qualify as fair use or would we need to seek permission to use the pictures.

2 Lawyer Answers
Steve Charles Vondran
Steve Charles Vondran pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • San Francisco, CA

A: This is a very important question. Before you invest in creating products or services using images found online, it is important to know who the "rights holder" is (the person who owns the legal rights to the photograph).

In some cases, a photo may be in the public domain, but having represented hundreds of infringement cases, many people believe that images they find online are "legal" and free to use if there is not a copyright symbol. This is not the case. Many people, even innocently, find themselves in this position.

The main thing most people do not realize is that photographs and images are protected by the United States copyright law whether or not they are "registered" through the United States copyright office.

"Fair use" is indeed a concept in the law but you want to make sure it applies. If it applies then you are free to use the image without permission. However, if it does not apply, then you can be deemed an infringer and the rights holders now have ways of finding this out, and if you are (especially) making a commercial use of the images, this can create potential problems.

The best bet is to get a "fair use analysis" or opinion letter from a copyright law firm. That way, at least you can show god faith and due diligence before seeking to utilize a third parties intellectual property.

This is not legal advice. Hope it helps.

Attorney Steve®

Timothy John Billick
Timothy John Billick
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Seattle, WA

A: My colleague gave a good run-down of fair use, but didn't answer your question.

If you keep the images to yourself (i.e. don't display the images prominently on social media, make T-shirts, etc.), your risk of infringement here is very, very low.

Have fun and don't crit!

1 user found this answer helpful

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