How to: stay on the right side of copyright law

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Copyright law can be a complex and expensive area to navigate, especially in the right-click, save-and-share world we now live in. The truth is, no matter where images are posted, they will likely be subject to copyright and possibly other legal rights. And the consequences for small or medium businesses of getting it wrong can be significant.

So how do you avoid the potential problems and stay on the right side of copyright law? Jonathan Lockwood, Vice President of Corporate Counsel at Getty Images gives us his top tips to help you stay clear of trouble.

What are the most common mistakes made by business owners?

One of the most common problems we come across is that of small businesses failing to seek assurances from creative agencies, or third-party designers, that usage rights have been obtained.

When permissions have been sought, not keeping copies of licences from the image owner can also cause problems. Particularly if an image licence is for a certain period of time.

We often see business owners who didn’t know to renew or replace their licence when it expired. And, clearly, it’s very useful to stay ahead of these things so you aren’t using unlicensed imagery.

Has social media led to an increase in copyright infringement?

The rise of smart phones and tablets, along with growing social networks and advancements such as 4G, have given consumers and businesses the freedom to share and source images at the touch of a button.

In minutes, business owners can capture and upload visual content direct to their social networks or reproduce content on their website – content which they may not own nor have consent to publish. And this means there are many illegal uses of imagery by individuals and small and large businesses alike.

How can I check who owns the license for an image?

There are many free online tools and apps, such as Image Exchange by Picscout, available to help small businesses check copyright and licensing information. These tools can help users check if an image is available to license and who to get a licence from before using the content.

Does being a small business make any difference to copyright law?

Rather than it being a question of the size of the company, it’s more what the issue means to those who create the content in the first place.

Lacking a way to earn money from their content, photographers, filmmakers, illustrators and musicians would be hard pressed to invest their time and effort in the creation of powerful new content. This would ultimately dull the content available, which is why the law applies to small and large companies alike.

Copyright checklist:

Unless business owners are creating their own imagery for their marketing collateral, packaging, social media platforms and website, they should always check image ownership and obtain permission, usually in the form of a license, before using imagery on their sites, products or communications.

Business owners should also be sure to ask third-party designers for copies of licences for any images they purchase on their behalf.  This applies to images used in marketing materials as well as products and packaging.

  • Make sure you or your designer only use imagery with the permission of the image owner/creator.
  • Keep copies of licences and permissions from image owners/creators on file.
  • If an image licence is for a specific period of time, ensure you renew the licence or replace it when the licence expires.
  • When using a web template that includes imagery, ensure that you have assurance from the template seller that they have a license to resell this content.
  • Source and license royalty free stock imagery and video from sites like Getty Images to ensure you’re using content with all the requisite permissions in place.
  • Exercise caution when using imagery for commercial purposes. If you don’t know where an image originated from or who owns the copyright to it, it is best to seek out an alternative.

Where can I find out more? – read up on image copyright rules and how to license stock photos.
Getty Images Copyright guide – a quick and easy guide to copyright with useful contacts.
Getty Images Rights & Clearance – our team are here to help with advice and support to secure the permissions you need.
The Copyright Hub – your gateway to information about copyright in the UK.


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