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Are you Aware of the Legal Use of Images in Your Business?

Today I’m writing about the legal use of images on your website and within your business . Now, I’m not a lawyer so don’t take this as legal advice (obvs!) but do become more aware of how you are using pictures on your site and social media etc.

I’ve found that it’s really common to see a picture being shared on social media that has not been created by the person sharing it and often with captions like “found on Pinterest”.

However, know that if you are doing something similar, you are likely to be in breach of copyright. At best, are putting yourself at risk of a Cease and Desist notice and at worse, becoming subject to a hefty fine.

You need permission to replicate work

Basically a picture that someone has created is their work, the same as if they’d produced a book, film or a piece of music.  You can’t necessarily just take it and use it as you please (there are some exceptions, such as if work like a piece of music or literature is over 100 years old it becomes public domain). Even if you’re not actually claiming that you took the picture or created it, you are still basically passing it of as yours.

(This goes for web copy too. I see coaches lifting copy from other people’s sites all the time. You can’t do it! (It’s plagiarism and Google doesn’t like duplicate copy so it probably won’t work in your favour anyway). I remember it happened often when I was a baby massage instructor. I poured over copy for hours or sometime paid for a copywriter to help, and then other instructors came along and thought they could just copy and paste it onto their sites! No bueno. Anyway, I digress…)

Crediting the source and linking back is not enough

  Now, you might think that as long as you credit the source and link back to the website you found the picture on it would be enough. But, don’t. It’s not. For starters, can you be sure it is that person’s photo and they haven’t just done the same thing as you? Quite often I see this on Instagram. Someone regrams a pic from the account they saw it on, but actually that’s not the original source so it should be credited to someone else.

I know that Pinterest goes completely against everything I’m saying here, that’s it’s basically designed to share other people’s content. However anything you are posting there or anywhere similar, will I’m sure – somewhere in the small print- say that you have the right to post the images that you do. So potentially, something that you share from someone else’s board, could still come back and bite you on the proverbial. However, that’s probably less likely since the whole site is based on sharing images.

I suppose this only muddies the water for online entrepreneurs trying to work out the right way to do things. But Pinterest is the exception to the rule, and you still can’t just take images from there and share them elsewhere on the web.

Using Stock Images

Even if you buy stock images from sites like HauteChocolate.ca, Shutterstock.com, GettyImages.com etc they usually still have restrictions.

For example:

  • you may need to use the work in its original form, ie don’t crop it or add filters
  • restrictions may be in place in how you can use the images eg ok on your website up to a certain number of hits, but not ok to reproduce on a greetings card or branded mug or to do so requires an additional or more expensive license
  • a web designer could buy an image licensed for their own use (eg their website) but it does not permit use in clients’ work
  • you may need to credit the sources on top of having paid for it

If you haven’t got original photos the best thing to do is either pay for stock pictures (and use them within the rights you have been granted) or use images from sites that do allow free use.

Being a new, small business is not a defence

Know that even small, new businesses can be hit by copyright fines for using photos illegally. A solicitor’s letter telling you you’re being fined could be the first you hear of a problem, you don’t have to be given a “warning” in the form of a Cease and Desist letter first. So do things the right way and protect your profits! If you think I’m just being a jobs-worth, have a read of this story and this one and know that ignorance or claiming a mistake won’t work in your defence!

Here is a list of sites where the photos are free (be careful though, as some of them have adverts on the site to paid-for stock images. Make sure you are downloading free-to-use images):






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