Don’t get caught out by copyright laws

If you are a website owner, or if you just like to use social media a lot, then you will know the effect that a good image can have on your content.

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

For websites, having good images is really important. Even if you have dull or difficult to understand copy (I can think of a few technical sites that fit the bill) a good image can help explain the content and lift the mood. It can also make your page much more shareable if it has a nice graphic to go with it.

The trouble starts if you aren’t a David Bailey in disguise, or a Pablo Picasso itching to create something truly great. What do you do then?

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Most people will start out by doing a Google search, to see what images they can find. This is great if you are trying to get some inspiration, but if you want to actually use some of the images you find, be very wary. Any image you find online will be the intellectual property of someone. To make matters more confusing, copyright laws vary from one country to the next.

To help you overcome the pitfalls, Google does offer some refinements when searching. When doing an image search, click on Search tools at the top of the search results page. Then click on Usage rights. You’ll notice options for filtering the results, based on whether images can be reused and how.

That is only half of the story though. You will find a lot of the images that appear will be stock images. There may be some free ones, but generally you will need to spend a little money to use them. If you do not buy them, but use them anyway, then expect repercussions. Stock image agencies do have ways to track the use of their images and will come knocking if you are caught out. I know one company that suffered a fairly hefty bill (into the hundreds) after it transpired that they had used a copyrighted image without permission.

Not all of the images are held by agencies. Some will be the property of individual photographers and artists. In those cases your best bet is to make contact with the person or persons concerned. If you want to use an image for non commercial use, they may be willing to let you use it for free, in exchange for a credit and possibly a link back to the original sauce. You won’t know unless you ask and you may get a nice surprise.

Finally, there are repositories of images out in the big wide world that are designed to be shared freely. One popular place is Creative Commons, where images are generally available for reuse, with clearly defined information on licensing requirements (if any).

As I said at the start of this piece, this applies to website owners and social media users. Even something as simple as sharing a photo publicly on Twitter or Facebook can land you in a lot of trouble if you don’t have permission to use that image.

So if you really are unable to create your own artwork, or hire someone to do it for you, check before using someone else’s.