Photo Copyright Basics All Webmasters Need to Know


Seriously – you can’t just pull images from Google. We’re sharing this and other photo copyright basics for those who run business websites.

While it might seem like a great idea at the time, pulling random images you don’t own from other websites, then posting them on your blog or site, is actually a photo copyright infringement.

In this post, we’re clearing up common misconceptions about photo copyright laws so your business’s website doesn’t run into trouble.

Myth 1: Using Other People’s Photos Has No Consequences

Let us tell you a little story about photo copyright (we promise, it’s interesting.)

Imagine you find an awesome picture of a city skyline that’s a perfect header photo for your website. You upload and edit the image, hit send, and call it a night.

The next morning, you wake up to find you’re one of 300 other people facing a $1500 fine for using the photo – because it’s photographer had registered the image with the U.S. Copyright Office. You could have just paid $200 to use the image – instead, you’re facing 7 times that.

If you think this sounds crazy, it actually happened. Photo copyright laws need to be taken seriously – imagine how you’d feel if someone stole an image from your site and tried to pass it off as their own, especially if the site they posted it on was a competitor or worse, an unseemly webpage.rom

Myth 2: I Can Use Images I Find on Google Without Breaking Photo Copyright Laws

Short answer: No, you can’t.

In fact, Google is faced with close to 2 million cases of photo copyright infringement – every week.

No matter how convenient it might be, unless you took a photo yourself, you need to check to make sure you’re aware of what rights you have to use it. For example, Getty Images, one of the largest stock photo agencies in the world, charges a fee for the use of some of their photos – no matter if you’re using them on your business’s website or a personal one.

If you’re using Google to find images to compliment your web content, be aware of the level of fee or photo copyright restrictions of images on an individual level.

Unfortunately, the copyright laws of each photo aren’t always clear-cut. Sure, if an image has a watermark, (the name or the logo of the photography company splashed across the image) it’s obvious you’ll need to pay for its usage.

And even if you do the right thing and list/credit the photographer’s name and link to the image source, unless you’ve paid the fee to use certain images, you’re still at risk to get in trouble with photo copyright laws.

To be on the safe side, it’s always good to do a little research to see what, if any, costs are associated with using the image.

This research isn’t always easy, and unfortunately, it can often be time-consuming as well. But getting your photo copyrights sorted out now is a preventative measure that protects the integrity of your business.

OK, So How Can I Find Out The Cost and Photo Copyright Of An Image?

In addition to looking out for logos, watermarks, and copyright symbols, there are other ways to learn about an image’s photo copyright regulations.

You can also do a Google reverse-image search, which won’t just tell you where the image has appeared online before – it can also help to connect you with the owner of the image, so you can reach out and clarify any copyright issues.

Be aware, too, of potentially misleading photo copyright lingo.

While terms such as “Fair Use” and “Royalty-Free” might imply that you don’t need to pay to use an image, that’s usually not the case.

Royalty Free actually means that once you pay the initial fee attached to using the image, you can use it on your website as many times as you like without having to pay another fee. Usually, Royalty Free images can be used for as long as you’d like. Basically, it’s a one-time fee for the use of a photo – but it’s a fee you still need to pay.

Fair Use photos sadly don’t mean free photos. Basically, it is set up so that certain photos (especially those relating to product reviews) can be used without violating photo copyright laws to benefit the public – but only in a limited capacity.

Look at it like this: if you’re using an image to do news reporting, teach, or make a comment for the greater public good, you’re in the clear. For example, it would be crazy to ask a reporter to write about a large earthquake, but then forbid them to include photographs alongside the story.

Still, if you’re a business, when it comes to Fair Use photographs, you may be on shaky ground when it comes to the images you can use (though of course, we know your website should totally fall under the umbrella of helping the greater good.)

If you want to use these images, just make sure you double-check with the owner of possible, to be on the safe side.

What About Posts I Find On Social Media?

With over 400 million active Instagram accounts, you’ve likely stumbled across some content and photos you’d love to use on your website.

The copyright legislation of Instagram photos is actually pretty similar to those of professional, personal, and stock photos. But because social media is a relatively new phenomenon, the licensing laws aren’t as firm as we’d like them to be just yet.

If you’re using an image in your company blog, while it’s likely to be no problem as long as you at least provide a link back to the account where you found the photo, there is still some risk involved.

Though it may take some time, one of the best ways to get to use an Instagram photo or other social media uploads while protecting yourself is to simply reach out to the user and offer a small fee to use the photo. This is because, according to Instagram’s rules, it’s not Instagram that owns the images – rather, it’s the individual users that do.

Keep in mind, you’ll likely need to also request that they send you a higher resolution of the image, as photos taken on cell phones can sometimes be highly pixelated.

Are There Any Photos I Can Find Online and Use Legally?

We get it – with so many copyright laws and rules bouncing around, it can quickly start to feel like you don’t have any options other than to enroll in a professional photography class.

Meet Creative Commons, your new best friend. Creative Commons is a hub of photographs and images uploaded by artists and photographers that you can use on your website, for free. Just be sure you’ve checked to make sure images you find there are cleared for commercial use as well.

You can use the filter application of photo-sharing sites like Flickr, or purchase programs like CC Finder, to provide you with Creative Commons Licensed photos that are all clear for commercial use.

A Quick Photo Copyright and Licensing Checklist

When asking if you can use a photo you’ve found on the internet, make sure you’ve brought up the following things with its owner…

  • How you’re planning on using the image (in your case, it will likely be exclusively on your business’s web site, but think if you’ll want to use the photo later, in billboard or print ad form)
  • What size will your photo be? (Sometimes, this can impact the price of the photo, and an image adjustment may be needed.)
  • Have you checked that, if there are people in your photograph, you’ve cleared the use of their image with any modeling agencies, etc?
  • Have you discussed how long you plan to use the photo, and have you clearly laid out that duration in your photo copyright agreement with the image’s owner?
  • Is the owner offering you any legal protection in case something goes south with the image, or will you be responsible for covering any fees incurred on your own?
  • If there are buildings in the background of the photograph you want to use, have you made sure you don’t need to check with the building’s owner to clear usage?
  • Have you assessed whether the photograph is Royalty Free, a stock photo, already in the Public Domain, or under the Fair Use photo realm?

We know: figuring out photo copyright requires a lot of methodical thought and checklists – but trust us, going through these steps now will save you a lot of headache in the future, and may even help to prevent a potential lawsuit.

You don’t have the time or the money to waste on that.

You’re Ready To Go

Hopefully, you’ve found this quick guide on how to properly assess the copyright of images you want to use on your business’s website informative and empowering.

We understand, though, that you may still have a few questions. Whether these questions relate to photography laws, or have more to do with how you can best design, build, and implement your company’s website, we urge you to get in touch with us today to begin creating your dream website for your company.


[activecampaign form=1]


Share this post with your friends

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top