Story Maps

Avoiding copyright infringement in your Story Map

(by Lynnae Van Voorthuysen, Esri product marketing.)

Story Maps often use lots of photos and images. While in the midst of creating a compelling story map, it may seem logical to add some pizazz or fill in a few gaps by quickly pulling a few images from an online image search. Easy? Yes. Legal? Probably not.

What is copyright and why does it exist?

To encourage creativity, the U.S. Constitution includes the Copyright Clause which gives authors of an original creative work (photograph, graphic, music, literature, etc.) exclusive rights to their work for a limited time. With these rights, copyright holders control the reproduction, distribution, performance, and modification of their work. Copyright exists to secure the financial profits that creative works merit.

How do I know if an image is copyrighted?

How to use a copyrighted image?

How NOT to use a copyrighted image?

Where should I obtain my Story Map images?

Public Domain images are not copyrighted. Content is added to the public domain when copyright holders release their work into the public domain, a copyright expires, or copyright exempt work (e.g. Federal government projects) is created.

Creative Commons falls between public domain and all rights reserved. There are six license types, and all require crediting the author by linking to the license and noting any modifications you make. Make sure the license matches your project goals.

Pay per image is another option, if neither the public domain nor creative commons have what you are looking for.

No one has time to monitor this, right?

Actually, yes. The owner of the content can request a “DMCA takedown” for content that is being used without permission. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a U.S. copyright law created to protect Internet service providers from user-generated content copyright liability.

As long as providers comply with the DMCA takedown rules, they are not liable for the copyright infringement of their users. Therefore, it is likely that the provider hosting your content will take down your content to avoid sustaining a copyright infringement claim.

What’s the takeaway?

It is important to respect the creative work of others. Copyright infringement is not primarily about illegally profiting from others’ work but about denying artists the fruits of their labor. Let’s move forward giving credit to creative endeavors by using creative commons or public domain images, or purchasing photos, for our Story Maps.

This post was originally published on June 22, 2015, and has been updated.

About the author

Tech evangelist and product strategist at Esri, focusing on ways to broaden access to geographic information and helping users succeed with the ArcGIS Platform. On a good day I'm making a map, on a great day I'm on one. Follow @bernszukalski or email


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