Am I risking copyright infringement? 1 Answers as of July 07, 2011

I'm a beginner graphic designer working for a non-profit org, in the process of illustrating a book. I'm making pictures, many of which use parts of images found mostly through Google Images and I’m becoming aware and more and more concerned about copyright infringement. One picture, for example is of a desert background, filled with a couple lions, snakes, scorpions, vultures, a hyena, all taken (downloaded and cut out) from separate photos, and composed in Photoshop. Everything has color, lighting and blending effects and the picture as a whole has a very strong message unrelated to any purposes of the original images. I'm wondering if our uses would mostly be considered fair use because of the fairly insignificant portion and role that the separate animals play individually in the overall picture; the more factual as opposed to fictional works (plain photographs of the animals, or of the desert) being used, and the much more fictional/creative work being created with it's unrelated, non-competitive purpose and message. It's a philosophical, educational book and we do want to be able to sell it. Is it always infringement as soon as I download any copyrighted image and put it or a part of it directly into my project, to change it from there or not? Or if that passes, is it infringement to change or edit that image, like by putting different paws or a different head on a lion or putting spots on it or something? Any answers or help would be so greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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Intellectual Property Center, LLC
Intellectual Property Center, LLC | Ak Shaf
This is a great question and very complicated. The outcome will depend on a number of factors which i would suggest contacting an attorney to discuss in detail. In general, the unauthorized copying, duplicating, distribution or modification of an original work of art, which is not in the public domain, and is not with permission, may subject you to copyright infringement liability which can be up to $150k (per work infringed) for infringement which is shown to be willful. I would suggest meeting with an attorney to discuss your specific issues and deciding how to best proceed. Good luck.
Answer Applies to: Kansas
Replied: 7/7/2011
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