In short, the answer is no ….
Does everyone know the rules when using images? Whether it’s for use online or in print – don’t use someone else’s pic without express permission – that’s written permission. Alternatively, you need to buy the licence to use photos and images from digital libraries such as Shutterstock and Getty Images or for free from royalty-free libraries such as Unsplash and Pixabay.
The pinnacle of course, is making an investment in your own business by booking and working with a reputable photographer. They will advise you and capture the best images to build your own library of photographs of your products and services. That’s more than a branding investment, it’s good for your website SEO too – more so than images that hundred, thousands, maybe even millions of other sites are using too.
But you know all this …don’t you? So why is it we still hear of small business owners getting caught out? Well, the chasing of unwitting small business owners for hidden, rarely used, unlicenced photos buried at the back of their website for years, is a huge one! All photographs that you don’t own, that you don’t have a licence for or written permission to use should not be on your website – anywhere. And neither should photos be on your social media output without the same.
It’s a hard lesson and an expensive one to learn if you’re a small business. If you had verbal permission from long ago, you still may be required to prove it once the machinery of the companies retained by media groups, corporate businesses and other business owners tracks down your omission and unpermitted use of an image. Businesses such as Pic Rights are retained by media publishers such as The Associated Press. They scour the web looking for unsuspecting websites to legitimately litigate against for copyright infringement. One day it could be you! They are sophisticated and legitimate, whatever the small business owner’s opinion, and they will be able to land you with a hefty bill to pay.
Copyright exists for almost all images – the copyright symbol © does not have to be present for copyright to exist, also deliberate removal of metadata that identifies the copyright owner is unlawful. This being the case, any owner of an image could be sending you a claim for infringing on their copyright. Reverse image search is very easy to do – they will find you, and they don’t necessarily need slick processes and legal know-how to bring a case to court.
Some may say to just ignore any copyright infringement claims that land on your doormat, but that is somewhat rolling the dice. Businesses like Pic Rights don’t own any copyrights – they are acting on behalf of the creators and publishers who do. It’s up to the copyright owners whether they want to pursue the claim in court. When it comes to copyright, the one question is ‘was copyright infringed?’, if you can’t prove that you have the right to use a protected property such as an image and the other party can prove they own the copyright, then a £800 infringement fee could turn into £2000 overnight and continue to ramp up. We heard of a claimant who was awarded more than £750 in additional damages because the defendant failed to engage with the claimant ( ie they followed advice to ignore the claim ) That £750 was on top of the damages for the infringing use of the image. The total was over £2800.
So as we start a new trading year, do yourself a financial good turn. Check your website for unlicensed photos. Old blogs, hidden news updates from way back, unused pages and ask yourself if you can prove written permission or licenses to use any photographs you didn’t take. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your bottom line!
You can find out more about copyright, digital images, photographs and the internet on the UK Government Website