Digital marketing

Using images legally online

- May 22, 2013 3 MIN READ

Including images on your website, blog and social media platforms is a great way to give your business a visual boost online. But what are the rules when it comes to using and sharing images?

Below are my answers to some common questions that might arise for business owners who are concerned about the right way to use and share images online.

What’s the most important thing I need to know?

As a general rule you will need permission from the owner of the image in order to use it on your business website, blog or social media pages. This might be written permission directly from the owner, or through a license agreement from an image-sharing website. When purchasing from these sites, be sure to follow and comply with their licensing terms.

Are all images found online protected by copyright?

Copyright is an automatic right granted to the original author or creator of ‘works’ that are categorised as works for the purpose of copyright, such as photographs, drawings and images. Despite popular belief: merely crediting the owner of the image is not sufficient to avoid infringing the copyright.

If the copyright in the image has expired, then it is considered to be in the public domain and generally free to be used. For more information on copyright laws, visit the Australian Copyright Council.

What is the legal way to post images on Facebook/social media?

Either by using the ‘share’ functions provided by Facebook or the social media site in question or with the permission of the copyright owner. Sharing a photo or any visual content is not necessarily you reproducing that photo or image, so is not an infringement of copyright.

Also be aware that if you upload your own work to Facebook or other sites, you will likely be providing them with the right to use your copyright. Most of these sites will advise in their terms that you provide them a licence to use the material by sharing it on their network.

Want more articles like this? Check out the social media section.

Do the same rules apply for posting images on my blog or website?

More or less – except that your website obviously doesn’t have the same ‘share’ capabilities that social media platforms allow. So, for your blog or website – seek permission, or comply with licensing terms found online for the images you wish to use.

Do I have to credit or back-link images that already have a watermark?

There is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this. Copyright owners will often incorporate a watermark on their images to avoid easy copying by others. A watermark is usually a light text that covers some of the image or photograph – often a copyright owner will use their name or business name. Whether you will need to credit or back-link images that have these watermarks would still be up to the owner of the image. The copyright owner has the right to stipulate the terms of use. If they say you have to credit them, and keep their watermark on the image then this is their prerogative.

I’ve heard I can use photos under a Creative Commons licence. What’s that?

A Creative Commons Licence is just one form of licensing copyright. Creative Commons is designed to provide copyright owners with a way of licensing their work through free online tools; there are still conditions to using these images though and these need to be considered and followed just the same as they would be under a paid license situation. For example, a creative commons licensor may stipulate that you cannot commercially use their imagery; that their images are for personal use only.

Where can I source free images for use online? (And how do I credit them correctly?)

Again, there’s no definitive answer to this. The crediting needs to be in line with the terms stipulated by the owner of the copyright. Some may stipulate that you back-link the image to their work; some may stipulate you include their full name; some may state you include a year of creation; some may allow only a certain size at no cost – to license a large image may involve a fee. In any use of another person’s copyright, always read the licensing terms and follow them. Do not assume that the process from one free website is the same as another.

You can search for free images, including for commercial use, on Creative Commons, which takes into consideration a variety of websites such as Flickr, Google, Fotopedia and others.

You can also find cost-free images at sites such as SXC, Photo Pin and FreeDigitalPhotos.

Are you confused about how to legally use and share images online, or has this article cleared things up?



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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"