One of the cloudier queries our clients ask is how to make sure they are legally using images on their website and social media posts. So we’ve decided to try and demystify image copyright for you here… please stick with this, we’ll get you there, but this is not the most straightforward problem.
A common misconception that certainly doesn't help the situation any is that if there’s no copyright notice – by way of a ©+ name of copyright owner + year, or more commonly for images by using a watermark, that the work is not covered by copyright laws and is therefore 'free game’.
This is entirely false - Copyright automatically applies to written and artistic works from the moment they’re created. You don’t have to ‘do' anything to obtain copyright.
The size of your company, the platform you use to share images, and whether or not it is for commercial use doesn’t matter - Photographers can take legal action against infringers of their works, from social media users to large commercial enterprises. Even not-for-profits and charities need to make sure they are compliant by purchasing licenses as required, though often at a reduced cost.
So how do we make sure we’re compliant? Follow the below options to ensure you can use an image on the platform you want, the way you want.
Created using Visme. An easy-to-use Infographic Maker.
What Are My Options?
Take your own photos
If the content creator is on staff, and the work is created during their employment as part of their job, usually the employer owns the copyright. If, on the other hand, the content creator is an independent contractor, then they will usually retain copyright unless there is something in writing transferring copyright to you.
If you have not made an agreement about how you may use the material, you would usually be entitled to use it for the purposes it was commissioned for, but may not be entitled to use it for other purposes.
Run a Google image search:
A Google Image search should reveal ways to identify the copyright owner. You can then contact the copyright owner to obtain any licenses required to use their image.
Importantly, though, if you cannot find the copyright owner, this does not mean it is free to re-use. In general terms, unless an image is extremely old, it is safest to assume that it is protected by copyright and you may not reuse it without permission.
How to run a Google image search - Go to images.google.com/ and click the image button (PHOTO 1). Then simply drag the photo into the image search box to run it through Google image search.
You can look for an image that is in the public domain (free to use):
Public Domain images are those where the copyright has lapsed, or never existed in the first place. So how does that work when as we have now learned, all created works are automatically copyrighted? Well the law didn’t always work that way. As it currently stands in Australia, in accordance with s210 of the Copyright Act 1968, copyright does not apply to works that were published before 1 May 1969. Therefore, Public Domain images will typically be very old works.
It is also important to remember that the copyright of these works can be renewed, and therefore not all works prior to 1969 are automatically public domain.
Creative Commons Licenses
Creative Commons is a world wide non-profit organisation that provides copyright owners with free licences allowing them to share, reuse and alter their material, legally. Offering work under a Creative Commons licence does not mean giving up copyright, it means permitting users to make use of material in various ways, but only on certain conditions. It is always your responsibility to appropriately credit the creator of any creative commons content that you use.
Generally speaking, if you are looking for images for commercial use, Creative Commons Licensed images are harder to come by, and you may need to look into the next option of purchasing a license.
Purchase the License to use an Image
Purchasing a stock image license is generally quite simple. The only thing you really have to be careful about is to ensure you only use that image under the license you have purchased it for. E.g. If you purchase the license to use a stock photo on your website, you cannot necessarily use the same image in a printed pamphlet without purchasing a more extensive license. So if you do plan on using the same image across many platforms in the future, ensure you look into whether the image can be used in each of the formats before deciding on the image.
A few example sites where you can purchase stock photos:
The More Ambiguous Examples
Posting unaltered screenshots of software, websites, computer/video games, etc., is generally considered fair use with proper attribution. However, it must not damage the commercial value of the product – e.g. you cannot use a screenshot of a videogame that will ‘ruin’ the game for the public, and therefore stop them from purchasing the game. The use of screenshots for purposes of review, instruction, training, etc., with no financial gain on your part, is generally acceptable, so long as the images are not altered (adding arrows and highlighting areas is fine).
Images used in relation to a review of works
Posting a book cover image, DVD cover image, software cover image, etc., in connection with a review of the product itself is an accepted practice and considered fair use if the image is already in circulation – i.e do not leak a cover of a book to yet released to the public without express written consent from the owner of the works.
Embedding a video on your website could get you into trouble if you do not have permission from the owner of the rights — i.e., the distributor or the person who uploaded the video. Just as with an image, if you are embedding a video you need permission. Further to this, it is your duty to ensure the video embedded on your site is not infringing copyright – so even if you get permission from the person who posted the video to YouTube for example, if they have broken copyright laws by using unlicensed footage – such as the illegal uploading of an episode of a TV program, then you are still liable for copyright infringement as a third party.
Have I Made the Right Choice?
As you can see the best way to approach this problem, is to never assume one way or the other. If you are unsure if you can legally use an image – don’t. The consequences of misusing an image whether intentionally or not are far too costly to your business.
To ensure your business does not fall victim to complicated copyright laws, use the above options to find an image you can legally use, or contact Clue Design. We can help you attain the images you want to make sure your website and social media are painting the right picture of your business.