If it doesn’t have ©, is it public domain?

No, not necessarily. This is a common misconception that causes many people to commit copyright infringement. Even if a photo or video online does not have the © symbol it is still subject to copyright protection. Therefore, if you use a something on the internet without the creator’s permission this will constitute copyright infringement.

Do I need to renew my copyright?

No, not in the USA if your work was created after January 1, 1964. Since the 1976 Copyright Act, you do not need to renew a copyright for a work created after 1964.

Can I take this image from Google and use it on my business website?

The short answer is probably not. If a person uses a copyrighted work without the owner’s permission, it constitutes copyright infringement unless a defense applies (such as fair use). A common misconception is that if a copyrighted work does not have the © symbols then it is in the public domain. This is not true and often gets people in trouble. Even if a work does not contain the © it can still be protected by copyright law.

In order to use copyrighted material, you need permission from the owner of the copyrighted work unless a defense, such as fair use, applies. However, fair use is often tricky to determine, as courts use a four-factor test to determine whether the use is fair use or not. The application of the fair use test is not always…predictable. Another issue is that you present your fair use defense to the court after you are sued for infringement. Thus you have the hassle of hiring an attorney and dealing with court. If you are curious about fair use and if it applies to your situation, you can set up a consultation with us, or check out the Stanford Fair Use project, available at: https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/