We’ve all been there. We’re writing a blog or preparing a presentation and we need a picture to really get our message across. After all, a picture paints a thousand words.
So where do we look?
The first place most of us turn to is Google and after a quick search you find exactly what you’re looking for. But, can you use this image? Read on to find out.
Unfortunately the answer isn’t clear cut. It depends on who owns the image (if anyone) and how you want to use it. For example you may be able to use the image freely for educational purposes or for reporting news, but there may be restrictions on using it for commercial purposes.
Images, whether they are photographs or drawings, are protected by copyright laws. This means that the owner of them can prevent other people from copying, altering them, or using them without permission.
However, copyright protection doesn’t last for ever. In the UK, copyright protection lasts for the life of the creator plus seventy years from the end of the year in which they died. So, if the image is older than this, it will be in the public domain and you will probably be free to use it (but be careful if it is an image of a famous person as other intellectual property rights may protect it – see further below).
If the copyright in the image is still valid, you will need the permission of its owner to use it and this is granted by way of a licence.
If you found the image in a library of stock images they will be very clear on their licence terms. They will tell you what you can and can’t do with the image and you will most likely have to pay a fee to use it.
If you found the image as a result of a general search, the safest option is to assume you can’t use it. But there are some exceptions if you really, really want to use that image.
For example, copyright laws allow “fair use” of the image. This means that you can probably wont need permission from the copyright owner to use it for your own personal use. So, you could hang it on your wall without any concerns.
Another example of fair use is where you are doing research or want to make use of the image for educational purposes.
If you intend to use the image for any commercial purposes it’s best to obtain the owner’s permission to avoid any possible infringement of their copyright.
If the image is of a real person, usually a model or a celebrity, (rather than just being a sketch of someone who has been made up) you may need their permission and the permission of the copyright holder to use the image. Especially if you are using the image to promote your products and services.
You mustn’t give the false impression that they are endorsing your products or services. This also applies to dead celebrities where their estate may continue to have rights in their image or have protected it in some way, for example by registering it as a trade mark.
Stock image libraries will usually have obtained a “image release” which means the person in the photo has given their consent for their image to be used.
If you are taking photographs yourself or you commission someone to take them for you, make sure the copyright is assigned to you and you obtain an image release from anyone in the picture.
If you are in any doubt as to whether or not you can use an image, please take professional advice. This is something we can assist you with.