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I have an image which I want to use in my project. I reverse image searched it on Google and TinyEye tool to find its original source. What I found was a bunch of wallpaper hosting websites for phone/desktop like www.mobiwalls.net, www.coldplaymobile.info, www.zedge.net and hdwallpapercorner.com using that image. These websites don't mention anything regarding licensing of the hosted images. I could not find a single website that seems like a genuine original source for that image.

Here is the reverse image search result.

Does that mean, that I can use that image(and other such images found on wallpaper hosting websites) without worrying about its license and attribution?

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    Where is the reverse image search result? – Michael C Apr 21 '18 at 10:52
  • @MichaelClark updated with search results – user388926 Apr 21 '18 at 13:00
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    That's not even a photograph. But… the licensing point still remains. – mattdm Apr 21 '18 at 13:51
  • Generally, either "all rights reserved" or "copyright violation". – Mark Apr 21 '18 at 18:45
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Does that mean, that I can use that image(and other such images found on wallpaper hosting websites) without worrying about its license and attribution?

No!

Someone owns the rights to that image. If you are not the holder of the rights to that image or if the owner has not granted you a license to use the image then you are not allowed to use the image. If you decide to use the image anyway and the owner of the image decides to pursue legal action against you the civil penalties can be quite severe. In addition to actual damages (basically the amount you would have had to pay to properly license the way you used the image plus any amount you profited from your use of the image) you can also be liable for punitive damages that can go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per violation.

If you used digital technology to gain access to the image, in the United States you can also be criminally liable under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA). Many other countries have similar criminal statutes, particularly those that have agreed to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

If you wish to argue that the image is "public domain" or licensed under a Creative Commons or similar type of license, then the burden of proof is on you to show that. You should not use an image unless and until you can show that either:

  • The image is in the public domain
  • The image is covered under a Creative Commons License or other such license that grants generic users certain royalty free usage of an image
  • The owner of the rights to the image (i.e. the copyright holder or their assignee) has granted you a license to use the image in the way you wish
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    Someone might own the rights to that image. – Jose Antonio Dura Olmos Apr 21 '18 at 21:36
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    @Jose Because of the way copyright works, someone almost certainly does. – mattdm Apr 22 '18 at 12:27
  • @JoseAntonioDuraOlmos Either someone owns the right to that image or there is documentation to show that they have surrendered those rights or assigned part or all of those rights to others. The only exception would be if the creator of the work has been dead long enough for the rights to fall into public domain. – Michael C Apr 22 '18 at 17:36
  • I see we are in agreement that someone might since you mention "almost" and "exception". No agreement about the number of exceptions though. Copyright laws are diverse and in same places don't exist at all. – Jose Antonio Dura Olmos Apr 23 '18 at 20:58
  • Most of the possible exceptions can be eliminated strictly on the basis of looking at the image in question. It's highly doubtful the author of that image has been dead for 70+ years. It's highly doubtful it was produced by an entity that automatically assigns all of their work to the public domain (i.e. the U.S. government when images are produced using public funds). Since the image was sourced via the internet, it is almost certainly covered under the Berne Convention and other copyright laws, even if the country of origin and the country in which the OP plans to use it have no such laws. – Michael C Apr 23 '18 at 21:03
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Just because someone has copied something without paying attention to copyright does not mean that the actual author loses ownership. Wallpaper collection sites are notoriously loose with this. You're doing the right thing to stop and think.

When doing a Tineye reverse image search and trying to find the actual source, looking for "oldest" is often helpful. This leads back to this by called 'waste84' — although judging by that user's (NSFW) gallery I'm not convinced it's original, despite a comment thread (including "amazing skull ..." and "thanks") that implies it. That version also has a signature in the bottom right corner — although it's hard to read, maybe... "Steve" something? Other work in the gallery has different signatures. Maybe waste84 at least remembers where it came from.

Although this is not a photograph, the above illustrates a general approach for attempting to sleuth out the original of some content you've seen illicitly copied many times on the internet. Look for the oldest — sometimes also the largest, but wallpaper frames and scaling sometimes ruin that.

As a secondary note: are you sure you want to use an image found in hundreds of collections all over the internet in your product? Why not instead commission an artist to create something original and unique to your product with the same flaming-skull motif? Maybe even... a photograph!

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