Haitian earthquake photos available to student media

We have had several students contact us regarding their use of news media photos to include with their newspaper or yearbook coverage of the Haitian earthquake.

As usual, the general rule for using copyrighted material applies: If you didn’t take the photo and/or you don’t own the copyright to it, you must first obtain permission, which sometimes requires paying for a license. Of course, the fair use exception, which allows for the limited use of otherwise copyrighted materials in the context of news reporting/commentary, still applies. But unless you are doing a news story specifically related to news media coverage of the tragedy, in which case you could probably use a small photo of the front cover of Time magazine, for example, or a screen shot of CNN’s coverage to illustrate your piece, it’s unlikely a fair use claim would fly — at least in the context of a general news story about the tragedy.

Fortunately for cash-poor student media there are some free options. For example, works created by federal government employees in the course of their work automatically become part of the public domain and are not subject to copyright protection. That means the materials are free to use without permission, though you will still need to accurately credit the source.

Most of the larger government agencies and departments maintain searchable online photo libraries that include large stockpiles of images showing work in which the agency is involved. Unless otherwise noted on a specific image, the photos are taken by federal employees and can be freely used for noncommercial purposes, which would include most student media use.

For the Haitian earthquake, the Department of Defense photo library includes hundreds of moving photos, not only of the American military response, but also more general photos of the earthquake’s devastating impact on the Haitian people and their country. Most of the photos are of professional quality and can be downloaded in high-resolution.

The U.S. State Department’s photo library also has a collection of photos.

In addition to government agencies, some charity organizations have taken and posted photos on their Web sites. Unlike photos by federal government employees, however, these photos are privately owned and the terms of use vary by charity.  The American Red Cross site does require registration to gain access to their photo library, but Victoria Hurley, in the ARC Communication Department, has told us that student media are welcome to use their photos for editorial purposes as long as they are not selling individual photos. She has created this page that includes information about the library and current login information.