This post has been kindly contributed by Karen Cooper of Northlight Photography.
As commercial photographers, we of course strongly recommend the use of photographs on websites – they are a powerful marketing tool and can quickly convey your message to potential customers. They also add interest to blogs and social media posts that promote your business. However, beware – it’s not as easy as finding a photo you like and uploading to your website.
In general, no matter where the photographer is based in the world, as soon as the photographer clicks the shutter, their copyright over that image is automatically assigned – which in layman’s terms mean they own the image. This allows the photographer, professional or amateur, to have control over how and by whom the image is used.
Just because an image is on the internet, it doesn’t mean it’s there for you to use, without permission or cost. Even if it’s not obvious – for example has no watermark or attribution – always, always assume that someone, somewhere owns that photo.
To breach copyright you must publish the image – that includes using it on your website or any printed media. Even if a third party – for an example a web developer or marketing agency – puts the image on your site or printed materials, because the photo is promoting your business in your marketing material, you are considered to be the publisher and as such responsible for the use of the image and any resulting copyright breach – so ALWAYS check with any third party working on your behalf that they have permission to use the image.
If you do breach copyright and are caught – and with image search tools widely available on the net, it’s is now easier than it has ever to be found out – the least you can expect is a legal cease and desist letter demanding you to remove the image.
However breaching copyright can also hit your bank account, as – in the UK and most other countries – the copyright holder has the right to make a charge for retrospective use of the image. This can be very expensive and there is no defence against it – the image is copyright, you’ve used the image without permission, copyright has therefore been breached, end of conversation. The best you can hope for is to negotiate the size of your bill with the copyright holder or their agent.
If you want to use a photograph, approach the photographer and they’ll be able to give you a price for using the image – along with an image use license which will set out the terms of how and who can use the image.
If you use a professional photographer to take photos for you – of your product, services or staff – your right to use the images to promote your business should be included in your costs (you’ll usually be given an image use license or it’ll be detailed in the contract or the photographer’s T&Cs).
If you buy images from a stock agency again, you will pay for your right to use the images. Just be aware ‘royalty free’ doesn’t mean copyright free – it’s just another term for paying a fee for the right to use the photo.
Please remember copyright is not an attempt to catch the unsuspecting public out and make money for nothing, but a way that photographers can not just protect their livelihoods but – and this is even more important – also protect their reputation and the reputation and rights of their clients who may have paid for the images to be taken in the first place.
You might want to also take a look at this article by a Canadian photographer who cuts right to the core of the argument http://bit.ly/2E2ucUa Just bear in mind his comment at the end of the article – made in 2013 – about tracking down photographs on websites is now a bit redundant as tools like Google Image Search make finding images much, much easier.
If you want learn more about why we protect our copyright you could take a look at this article: http://bit.ly/2vM3bz5
You can read another article by Northlight here: http://buzzwebsitedesign.com/how-to-make-photos-work-for-your-website/