You don’t have to be a lawyer (and we certainly aren’t one), to know that you can’t just pick images off the internet and use them willy nilly on your site or in your apps – or on your Easy Weddings profile, for that matter!
But you do need a basic awareness of what you can and can’t do online with regards to other people’s images. Of course, for proper legal advice, you’ll need to see a lawyer, but here are some tips and rules for using images online.
Unless it says otherwise, assume all images are subject to copyrigh
Most online material is subject to copyright and this includes text, images, photographs, graphics, music, videos and similar artistic works or content.
Basically copyright is set of rights granted to the author, photographer or creator of various work.
These rights entitle the copyright holder to present, display, share or distribute the work in question.
The copyright holder can also transfer these rights to another person or legal entity.
The purpose of copyright law is to protect the rights of the creator and in particular his or her financial interest in that work.
Copyright is automatic in most jurisdictions and does not need to be registered as is the case with patents. Copyright does not even have to be claimed, but it is a good idea to do it anyway.
For example by stating “Copyright <Business name>2014” you claim copyright to your content.
This does not prevent someone from downloading your content, but at least you are, unequivocally, informing them that the copyright for anything on the site resides with you.
Theory and practice of online copyright
We all know copyright infringement is rife on the Internet and it’s not just in images, but music and movies, too.
But while some creators of artworks, be they images, videos or audio recordings, do not mind if their creations are used elsewhere, particularly when there are no negative financial implications for them, many others do mind – and they are within their rights to take action even if that is, typically, unlikely to happen.
Regardless, that’s not a good enough reason to deem OK the use of someone else’s image without their permission.
Consequences of copyright infringement
Copyright, as is the case with most legal issues, is not easy or as straightforward as the explanations given above. It’s an incredibly complex topic, one that is taken on a case-by-case basis.
Not all copying amounts to an infringement of copyright. There are factors such as fair use which includes research, criticism, teaching, reporting and so on.
However there are potentially serious consequences for blatant copyright infringement.
The penalty for copying a non-professional, non-commercial image may not be quite as severe as it could be for copying an image created by a professional or mega corporation with a globally recognised brand, but that doesn’t make doing so any less wrong.
The most likely outcome will be that the copyright holder will contact you and notify you of your infringement. If this is so you will have to remove the offending material from your site.
However if someone does decide to take action for a breach of copyright, they’ll look at if you’ve benefitted financially or have a habit of this sort of behaviour. Of course, if you’ve benefited financially from the copyright infringement, the penalties can be more severe.
Penalties can be financial and these vary from country to country. Keep in mind that under the Berne convention the US is entitled to enforce its copyright laws in a 100 participating countries.
If the copyright holder suffers damages as a result of your infringement you can be held liable for such damages.
Be particularly careful if you’re thinking about using images created by brand names or using images that display brand logos and designs.
These companies are far more aggressive when it comes to protecting their copyright and they regularly conduct online searches to find infringements of their logos and designs. It’s much easier to steer away from using someone else’s images, be they big or small!
Are your online images legal?
How can you be sure the images you use on your website are legal?
Perhaps you have entrusted a web developer to add images. How do you know where your developer found the images or if they are perhaps infringing someone else’s copyright?
We all know, for example, that you can find many images on Google; but can you simply copy them and use them on your website?
For example an image search for “wedding planners” returns thousands of images. So, can you use some of them?
No, you cannot.
Though it’s easy to do, you aren’t supposed to merrily pluck images from Google and use them however you wish.
Yes, it is easy to copy and place images on your website but without the author’s permission, you shouldn’t.
How to ensure your images and web materials are legal
So how can we rather avoid any potential legal issues and complications when using images on our websites and other online places?
The best way of course is to create your own materials.
Take your own photos, create your own graphics and write your own text.
Of course, you can also pay someone to make the materials for you.
Be careful to ensure you know the terms of copyright before entering into any agreement with a third-party.
In most cases, copyright resides with the creator of any work, unless that copyright is transferred. In some jurisdictions, however, the work belongs to the person who commissioned the work, so be sure to find out who owns the copyright to creations, even if you’ve commissioned them.
You can avoid this by having any contractors sign a Transfer of Copyright document, which will transfer the copyright for the creation in question to you.
Obtain permission from the copyright holder
If you find an image that you really like and want to use, the safest bet would be to contact the copyright holder and ask his or her permission.
If permission is granted, be sure to keep a copy of that permission. Also be sure to specify exactly how you intend to use the images.
Keep in mind that, in most jurisdictions, it is not sufficient to merely credit the copyright holder.
In practice it may well be sufficient, but the copyright holder can still take you to task if he or she wishes to do so.
Use sites that legally allow you to copy images
There are many specialty sites that allow you to purchase or share images. You can purchase images or possibly download some for free from other image stock sties, but be sure to read the terms and conditions before buying or downloading images from such sites.
Some examples of photo sharing sites include shutterstock.com, fotalia.com and flickr.com
If you are using the images for a specific fair use purposes, such cases as education, research and reporting, you may be able to use a small portion of someone else’s work without permission, however, this is something only a copyright lawyer will be able to ascertain.
You can freely use public domain materials
Copyright does not last forever. Any works published before 1923 automatically falls in the public domain. Works published between 1923 and 1963 without copyright notice now falls in the public domain. You can read more here
You can also search for public domain photos on sites such as public-domain-image.com.
Also, if a work is marked by Creative Commons, it confers varying levels of on the public to use those works free of copyright.
Sharing via social media
Similarly, if you share your own works on social media sites, you could be granting others the right to share that image on that network, so read the Ts and Cs of social media sites before using or uploading images as the policies vary markedly.
Using images created by or owned by third-parties without proper permission on your website is a clear infringement of copyright.
Yes, millions of people do it every day, but the fact is, legally, it is wrong and could land you in some seriously hot water.
Though many weigh up the likelihood of being tapped on the shoulder for using someone else’s images versus the convenience of simply copying and pasting something quickly and filling their blogs and pages, it’s a risky, possibly perilous route.
The solution? Pay for stock images, ask permission, create your own works – or simply steer clear of work that isn’t yours.