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Photographs On Your Business Website: Are You Breaking The Law?

One of the easiest legal minefields to fall into is that of copyright infringement. Everything that is created (a photograph, an illustration, a blog post, a web banner, a piece of code) belongs to somebody. Every time you take a photograph, it belongs to you and cannot be used without your expressed permission. What you use, and how you use it, is subject to copyright law.

Can You Use Images on the Internet? It Depends…


When you have a web presence (for example, a professional blog), it is strongly advisable to have photographs to accompany the text. If you wish to use something that somebody else has created on your own site, you must seek permission. The belief that “if it is on the internet, it is free” and “if it is not attributed, it is free” are pervasive, wrong and costly. You must take every step to ensure that the image is free for you to take and use. Otherwise, your business could find itself at the centre of a court case. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.

How To Avoid Breaking The Law

Even when images are free, there will often be restrictions to their use. You simple cannot take an image from the internet unless you have permission to do so. Here is how you can cover and protect yourself.

Find Copyright Free Imaging

Some kindly people do make their images free of charge to use for anyone. Websites such as Pixabay and Pexels (amongst others) offer copyright free imaging. This means that you may use their images without paying royalty and even without credit, even for commercial purposes. Websites such as these are useful, but as you can imagine, because they are free they are used a lot. The same images crop up repeatedly on the web, meaning they are not unique.

Use Creative Commons

Wikipedia and Flickr are also great resources for photographs that you will (more often than not) be able to use free of charge, even for commercial purposes. However, they will nearly always link to a license that shows how you may use these images.

In the download box, Wikipedia will show one of two things “You must attribute the author”. This is non-negotiable. They will also provide a short piece of HTML code to make it easy for you. If it says “you can attribute the author” it means you are not legally obliged to do so, but it may be polite to do so.

Flickr’s is more complex. First, you must link to the page where you downloaded the article and include a separate link to the license (which will be linked from Flickr). The license will contain terms by which you must abide. Typically, they might say you must modify the image in some way.

Pay for Royalty Free Subscription Sites

You could use a paying site (Shutterstock, Dreamstime, istockphoto to name a couple). This is costly in some cases, so unless you have a high turnover and it can add value to your business, there may be no need. Typically, editors of newspaper and magazine websites use this method, which gives an indication of the sort of turnover and outreach required. Once again, be sure to check the license. Some will stipulate whether or not you may use images for commercial purposes. If attribution is required, ensure you do so.

Use Your Own Photographs

One way of avoiding any potential challenge to your right to host photographs is to use your own images. Smartphone cameras produce high-resolution inconceivable just 10 years ago. Almost anyone can learn basic photo manipulation and editing too with the right amount of patience. Taking your own photographs depends on the use. Photography is a creative skill that you will need to learn as you go, but it is not beyond most people.