Date: Mon 10 Dec 2018

Images are precious … protect them By Lindsey Collumbell

Who owns the copyright of an image?

Lindsey Collumbell

Lindsey Collumbell

1. Images created by you
If you have created an image yourself, you will generally be free to use it as you wish. However, there are exceptions which include:

  1. You are an employee of a business or individual and create the image in the course of your role
  2. You take a photograph of a work that is protected by copyright, for example, of a painting in an art gallery
  3. You agreed the copyright will belong to someone else
  4. You were commissioned to take photographs by a third party for private and/or domestic purposes and do not have their permission to put them on the internet
  5. You have granted an exclusive licence to someone else
  6. You have agreed to the terms of a Non-Disclosure Agreement embargo, or other contract which would restrict use of the image

2. Images created by an employee
If an image is created by an employee as part of their employment, the employer is the first owner of copyright, unless there is an agreement in place to the contrary. However, if a third party is commissioned, for example, freelance photographer, illustrator, artist, etc) to create an image, the first legal copyright owner will usually be the person or business that created the image, unless there is an agreement in place to the contrary (see point below)

3. Images you commission the creation of
When you commission a professional photographer to take photographs on your behalf, the copyright will normally remain with the photographer. Therefore, you will need the photographer’s permission to print copies of the image/s or other actions restricted by copyright, such as posting them on a website or social media site.

Photographers will generally include licence terms in their contract with you setting out how you can use the photographs. If you have specific uses in mind, make sure these are discussed before contracts are signed. When you have commissioned an image for a specific use, any additional use will require an additional licence.

You could arrange with the photographer to assign the copyright to you – which should be in written form and in a signed contract between yourself and the photographer making it clear that you have bought the copyright from them.

The use of images created by others

1. I want to use an image found on the internet
Generally, this is not possible as the majority of images on the internet are protected by copyright. You may use images found on the internet in the following circumstances:

  • You know the copyright term has expired
  • You have permission of the copyright owner for exactly the purpose you wish to use the image, for example, in the form of a licence you have purchased from a picture library or a Creative Commons Licence
  • You use the image for specific purposes, known as ‘permitted acts’
  • You obtain a licence to use images for commercial purposes, such as promoting your business on a website (this will usually incur a higher fee than for non-commercial use)

2. I want to link to images found on the internet
There are not usually copyright restrictions when sharing or posting a web link to pages where images have been posted publicly online by the copyright owner. The EU’s Court of Justice has ruled that providing material has been posted online with the permission of the copyright holder, internet users should be able to share links to this material. However, copying images and then hosting them on another website will usually be an infringement of copyright. You must obtain permission from the copyright owner to do so.

3. What if I do not know who owns the copyright of an image?
If, after extensive research to find the copyright owner, you have not identified the copyright owner or obtained their permission for the use you wish, use an alternative image.

4. Can I use the image if there is no copyright symbol ©, year or name in view?
Just because there is no copyright symbol ©, year or name evident, does not mean you are free to use or copy the image. Sometimes metadata is embedded within the image which provides details of the copyright owner. Removing this metadata (uploading and downloading images may cause this to be removed accidentally) is against the law.

5. What are the consequences if I infringe the copyright on an image?

  • You may be asked to purchase a licence for the intended use and no further action against you will be taken
  • A claim may be brought against you in a court of law. Generally, you will be made to pay a fee to use the image plus the legal costs incurred by you and the copyright owner. There may also be other financial compensations required.
  • You could be asked to take down the image and permanently remove all copies of it unless you obtain permission to continue doing so from the copyright owner.

Stop others using your photograph posted on a social media site

When you join or use a social media site, check the terms and conditions of use to determine if they allow others to use the images you post. These terms and conditions may allow your photographs to be used for commercial purposes by the site or make your images available for others to use without your prior permission or notice. If this is the case and someone is using your photograph in a way you do not wish them to, you can ask them to stop using the image, but they may not agree to do so. If this is the case, you may wish to pursue them through other areas of the law, for example, privacy or defamation.

This advice note has been written to help you protect the copyright of your own images and avoid infringing the copyright of those created by others. This information is not a substitute for legal advice pertaining to your country, but it will guide you how to approach the use of images in your country.

For further information / sources:

Definition: The term ‘image’ in this advice note refers to:

  • Digital photographs taken on mobile phones and digital cameras
  • Images first created on photographic film and any digitally manipulated image created from them
  • Images such as diagrams and illustrations

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