My wife wants to make greeting cards and sell them on Ebay, Amazon etc. She is worried that she may be breaking copyright laws if she was to copy images from the Internet, and add her own words, like 'Happy Birthday to Joe Bloggs'. She is thinking of selling maybe up to 200 cards a year through Ebay, but also wary of possible issues of copyright.
The question of being able to use copied images results from two different scenarios. Can you advise, if branded images are different than general images, like clip-art?
She has seen other sellers copy photos taken from the internet, of Sonic, Tinkerbell or Minecraft for instance, found in Google Images.
Generally distributed clip-art graphics are everywhere on the internet, and again we see these being 'copied' and 'pasted' onto Greeting Cards, to be sold by individuals, but these images are of wine bottles, flowers, animals etc, and not world known brands.
Any advice would be helpful. She doesn't want to create problems before starting her venture.
Your wife is right to be cautious, especially as she is just starting out on this venture, and it may be that it will take a few months or even years before a copyright infringement claim might arise and cause headaches.
To put it simply, any image whether, it's an artwork or a photograph, made within the last 75-120* years will almost certainly be protected by copyright. It really doesn't matter if it's clip art or a photograph from the front cover of Vogue. That's the starting point. However just because an artist or photographer is entitled to copyright in their work doesn't necessarily mean that, in all cases, they will wish to retain or monetise their rights. For example, many of the people who post stuff on social media will be relatively relaxed about others sharing their pictures without permission, whereas a professional artist or photographer is likely to care far more because selling their images is how they earn their living. There are formal ways in which artists etc can make it clear that they are happy for others to use, share and transform their images. Usually this is done by releasing the image under a licence. The most well-known of these is the Creative Commons.
This system allows an artist etc to specify particular limitations within the licence, for instance that the work may not be used commercially by someone else, and provided that the end user abides by these licence terms, they may freely copy and re-use such images. If your wife uses Google Image Search, she can make targeted searches by selecting Settings, then Advanced Search and then Usage Rights, which will open up a drop-down menu. Depending on whether she needs to modify the image or not, she should choose between "free to use or share, even commercially" or "free to use, share or modify, even commercially". Then complete the subject matter as normal. The results returned by the search should then all be available under the relevant Creative Commons or similar licence. Alternatively you could use the Creative Commons own search tool. Wikimedia Commons is somewhat similar, but beware that they rely on American copyright law when determining if something is in copyright, and this may not always apply in the UK.
If your wife wants to use websites which offer 'free' images, she needs to very careful to check the provenance of the images being offered. If these sites have been lax in checking the image rights before accepting them, it will be your wife rather than the site who will be liable for any infringement which may occur.
And lastly there are picture agencies which can supply suitable images for a fee. Generally the fee is calculated on the proposed usage so if you wife's business will be relatively low volume in sales, this may prove worthwhile. You can find suitable picture agencies for the type of images you need by going through the BAPLA website. One piece of terminology to beware of is "royalty-free" which you will come across on most picture agency sites. It doesn't mean 'free' to use. It means that the fee is fixed in advance and is not based on a royalty per-use basis.
I would advise you wife stay away from branded images (eg popular cartoon or computer games characters etc) as the companies behind these brands are rigorous in enforcing their intellectual property rights. Getting licences to use such characters is both difficult and expensive; difficult because generally the rights to use the characters on greetings cards will have been sold to a single manufacturer on an exclusive basis, and expensive because these are valuable commodities. There is also the added complication of trade mark protection which can be associated with branded characters etc.
* The lower figure of 75 years could apply to some photographs made after 1945. The standard term for copyright in artistic works is the lifetime of the author plus 70 years after their death.