The following is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact a lawyer.
What is copyright?
Copyright law protects original creative works, such as software, video games, books, music, images, and videos. Copyright law varies by country. Copyright owners generally have the right to control certain unauthorized uses of their work (including the right to sue people who use their copyrighted work without permission). As a result, certain images and other copyrighted content may require a permission or license, especially if you are using the copyrighted work in a commercial setting. (Note that when you are using someone else’s content trademark or publicity rights might also be involved, and you are responsible for obtaining all of the permissions and licenses necessary to use the content.) However, even copyright-protected works can be lawfully used without permission from the copyright holder in certain circumstances. The Wikipedia entry on copyright law contains a useful overview of copyright law, including fair use and other exceptions to copyright law.
Are all creative works protected by copyright?
No. Not all creative works are protected by copyright. There are many exceptions to and limits on copyright protection. For example, copyright only protects creative works for limited periods of time. After the period of protection expires, the copyrighted work enters the public domain. If a work is in the public domain, the work may be freely used without permission from the creator of the work. However, just because a work is available online does not mean it’s in the public domain or free to use. You can read more about the public domain on Wikipedia.
What about “fair use”?
The copyright laws of many countries have specific exceptions and limitations to copyright protection. For example, in the United States, “fair use” allows you to use a copyrighted work without permission in certain circumstances (e.g., a book review that includes some of the book being reviewed). Wikipedia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have useful descriptions of fair use.
What happens if I upload copyrighted materials to a Microsoft site or service without permission from the copyright owner?
It depends; sometimes it is fine to upload copyrighted materials to Microsoft’s websites without seeking permission from the copyright owner (e.g., backing up your personal files, such as your family photos, on OneDrive). However, we are generally required by law to disable access to copyrighted content (including videos, music, photographs, or other content you upload onto a Microsoft website) if the copyright holder claims that the use of the copyrighted work is infringing. You can let us know if you believe that a copyright holder wrongly requested that we disable access to content you uploaded (e.g., you believe you have the rights to use that content or because your use is a fair use). Note that if you repeatedly use your Microsoft account to infringe, we may terminate your account. So please, respect other people’s copyrights.
What if my stuff is on a Microsoft site or service without my permission?
If you believe that content hosted by Microsoft infringes your copyright, let us know. Just provide us with the information requested on our Notice of Infringement page.
How can I find content to use?
Some content available online, such as public domain content, is free to use because it is not subject to copyright protection. Other content might be subject to copyright but the copyright holder licenses content with certain restrictions, such as under the Creative Commons license. Bing’s image search lets you limit results only to Creative Commons-licensed images (after running an image search, click “license”). Other copyrighted content may be used without permission because a limitation or exception to copyright applies (see above discussion of fair use).
Of course, some online content is not free to use, is not licensed by the copyright holder, and your use will not qualify as fair use. Unfortunately, we can’t provide specific guidance regarding the use of particular content, so be careful to select the works you use carefully.
Do I have to disclose where I got content from?
It depends, but it is generally a good practice to credit the original creator of the content. Some content creators require that you give them credit when you use their work as a condition of use. You should carefully review any license requirements for any content you plan to use prior to using any content.