Vangie Beal
Last Updated October 1, 2021 3:14 am

Short for graphics interchange format, a GIF (pronounced jiff or giff) is a bit-mapped graphics file format used by the World Wide Web in various settings. Developed by CompuServe, GIFs originally served to compress color images so they could be shared without diminishing a computer s memory. GIFs were mostly used for still images at the time, but PNGs eventually took over as the standard digital image file format and GIFs have since become the primary way of sharing animated images online.

How are GIFs made?

GIFs are largely democratic in nature many online tools can take any URL or user-uploaded file, extract the relevant images, and create an exportable GIF file that can then be used in blogs, message boards, community forums, social media posts, etc. Because GIFs are fundamentally a series of static images strung together to create an animation, design applications like Photoshop and GIMP enable users to create custom GIFs from start to finish, which makes GIFs a powerful tool for marketing professionals to engage their audiences. It is important to note that GIFs only support up to 256 colors and generally come with a large file size, which makes HTML5 videos a rising competitor in online animations.

Are GIFs subject to copyright?

GIFs are protected under the Fair Use doctrine in the United States, meaning GIFs may use material from copyrighted media (movies, television shows, viral videos, etc.) according to the following criteria:

  • Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • Nature of the copyrighted material
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Many court cases throughout U.S. history have illuminated the flexibility of the Fair Use doctrine, but GIF as a medium has yet to be challenged under this law. However, instances of major media companies and other organizations seeking to protect their intellectual property (like Disney, the NFL, and even the International Olympic Committee) have set cultural precedents for widespread GIF use. Giphy, an online GIF database and creator, has been regarded by many companies as a trustworthy moderator of GIF infringement debates and will remove any community-created GIF that violates its Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) policies.