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I want to publish screenshots of web sites in a book and provide a critique of each screenshot. Many of the screenshots would be cropped to just show a section of a page.

Adobe has published these guidelines http://www.adobe.com/misc/permissions.html (see the screenshots section) . They seem reasonable enough.

For those that have experience of this, do Adobe's guidelines seem permissive? The screenshots would not be of Adobe web sites and my worry is that other companies may not follow Adobe's line and take legal action if they were entitled to do so.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

A nearly identical question appears at Stanford University's Copyright and Fair Use Center:

Dear Rich: I have a question. I’ll be using a lot of screenshots from different websites in my book. Do I need to get permission for that or is it a fair use?

The 'Rich' in question is Richard Stim, the corporate council for Nolo, which claims to be "one of the web’s largest libraries of consumer-friendly legal information".

According to Rich:

Conventional wisdom (and the Electronic Frontier Foundation) says that an unauthorized screenshot is an infringement. That said, the use of screenshots rarely triggers a complaint because either: (1) the copyright owners don’t want to complain about something that promotes their company -- for example, an online tutorial about using Microsoft Word, or a book about starting an eBay business, or (2) the copyright owners believe the use is likely to be excused as a fair use. Although issues don’t often arise, occasionally copyright owners do complain -- for example, Apple complained about prerelease screenshots of the iPhone. Some sites place limits on your use of screenshots in their user agreements.

Keep in mind that if the copyright owners do complain, the results can be unfortunate -- it may disrupt publication of a book or other product. Perhaps a more important issue to consider is whether what you are doing is likely to anger or annoy the copyright owner. If it is, proceed with caution and review your use of the company’s trademarks so that your use doesn’t imply an association or endorsement.

To me, that reads: use at your own peril. You will probably be ok, as commentary and criticism are generally considered Fair Use. But if the copyright holder is displeased, "the results can be unfortunate". Of course, you could always seek permission from the copyright holder and avoid any unnecessary legal entanglements.

As always, this is no substitute for real legal advice from a real legal expert.

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Thanks for pointing me to a reputable resource. It's helping me build a checklist of things that I need to note down at the time of taking the screenshot. That's what I'll present to the lawyers with examples when I take advice. –  Gilbert May 21 '12 at 23:37
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Copyright of web pages and web sites is a legal nightmare, not least because most companies are quite happy for screen shots and images to be taken, if they are used to support and promote their site. Of course, when they are not, the issues are extremely complex.

For those sites that allow me to define what and how I want information, who does the copyright over the finished look belong to? Have the site owners not just provided me with a development tool to produce my own site? If I take a screenshot of a site in a specific state, because it is dynamic and changing, then is that instantaneous image something the providers should have rights over?

On the whole, if you are being fair and reasonable about the screenshots you use - that is, not misrepresenting the sites or the organisations - then you are probably on acceptable legal grounds for "fair use". The real difficulty come when, as I suspect, you are wanting to critique sites, and make negative comments. You are probably still on "fair Use" grounds, as long as your criticisms are reasonable and valid, however as @JedOliver pointed out, if the site owners decide to make a big fuss, then, irrespective of the final results, your book publication could be delayed, which might be serious.

If you can, contact the copyright holders, where you can find their details. It may be that such a critique will prompt them to change things, and you can then comment on the changes too. But at least they will know what you intend to say.

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Thanks. My intention is to very clearly date each screenshot, point out the good aspects of the page and suggest improvements if ( in my opinion ) necessary. Sounds like always sharing in advance and being willing to a few might be the safest policy. –  Gilbert May 21 '12 at 23:34
    
Cool. Of course, if anyone does refuse you permission to use a screenshot, that does not stop you mentioning the fact that they have done this (or at least that some places are clearly embarrassed by their live web site failings). That tells you a lot as well. –  Schroedingers Cat May 22 '12 at 8:14
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