11 essential copyright questions and answers

Fast Media Magazine’s objective is to connect picture buyers and sellers and help them make more informed decisions. Besides are regular news and contributions from renowned opinionleaders we publish regular posts in our guides sections. This is the first guide on copyright  in a series aimed at helping picture buyers find their way through this complicated area. We will post regular new guides and they will be clearly marked on the website. This first guide is supported by Stockphotorights.com.

  1. What is copyright?
    • Copyright is a form of protection provided by the law to the authors of “original works of authorship.” By virtue of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, works are protected in all 160 countries that are party to the Convention, as well as various other laws such as the US copyright act.
  2. Does this apply to all images?
    • Yes, this applies to all images. From the time it is created, a photo or other image is automatically protected by copyright.
  3. What is copyright infringement?
    • Infringement can include a violation of the rights of the creator or rights holder. Examples of imagery infringement may include:
      • Use of whole or part of an image without permission
      • Use beyond the scope of a license or permission
      • Adapting an image without permission (art rendering)
      • Asking another photographer to identically recreate the image
  4. Who’s responsible when infringement occurs?
    • Responsible parties may include:
      • The party that infringed (the photographer or the person that stole the image in the first place), even if unintentionally
      • Employees or others who participated in the original infringement
      • Anyone who published the infringing image, whether they had knowledge or not
      • Anyone who authorized or encouraged infringement
  5. Why should I worry about copyright infringement?
    • Infringement of copyright may result in monetary damages, lawsuits, costly legal fees and under some rare circumstances, criminal charges.
  6. Surely no-one will be able to find one image in the whole of the internet?
    • New technology now enables copyright owners to identify unlicensed imagery and act to protect their rights. Imagery is ‘fingerprinted’ so that it can be tracked and found in use, even if it has been modified, recreated or if only part of the image has been used. The image is then flagged up to the copyright owner so that they can check if the correct license is held.
  7. I’m using an image I found through a Google Image search. If it’s on the internet, doesn’t that mean it’s free?
    • No. Just because an image is on the internet, it doesn’t mean the image is free to use. You may still need the correct license to use it. There is a difference between an image being online and an image being “in the public domain” (the term given to content that is not owned or controlled by anyone)
  8. Someone else created my website. Am I liable if the images are not licensed correctly?
    • If a third-party designer, employee, contractor or intern designed and developed your company’s website, you are responsible for ensuring they have licensed the images for your use. If no valid licenses exist the liability of any infringement may fall on the company (the end client) who used the image.
  9. If someone else built my website, how will I know when the licenses will expire?
    • Don’t assume your designer or image provider will contact you about an expiring license. Where the license to the image expires (which is generally not the case with royalty-free images), the imagery provider may send a renewal notice to the purchaser of the license, so your designer may receive this notice if they licensed it on your behalf. It is best to get invoice numbers or sales order numbers for the images on the website and contact your imagery provider to confirm if the license is connected to your website. It’s also wise to keep all your licenses organized so that you know the scope and expiration dates of each license.
  10. I’m just a blogger and my site is non-commercial. Can I use images for free?
    • In most cases, no. Unless your use is specifically permitted by copyright law, all the images on your website must be properly licensed, regardless of the nature of your site. You can, however, license very inexpensive images from many imagery providers that are perfect for web use and will be properly licensed.
  11. How can I be sure I’ve taken the appropriate steps in licensing an image?
    • There are various places that you can go for information; hopefully this website will give you a basic understanding of the potential risks you need to bear in mind. You should consult with your legal counsel if you have specific questions. Please also see our resources section for more information and also take a look at our ‘what you need to do’ section.

Supported by Stockphotorights:

Licensing stock images can be a complicated business. Whether you need an image for an advertising campaign, a company presentation or for your personal blog, you should know the legal ins and outs before you agree to license it. Stockphotorights.com is a helpful resource for information on image licensing. It aims to unravel the complexities, expose the pitfalls and provide image buyers with the knowledge they need to license an image with confidence. This site is not, however, a substitute for advice from your own legal counsel.

Stockphotorights.com has been set up by Getty Images for the benefit of the photographic industry and its customers, with the support of BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies) and PACA (Picture Archive Council of America).

Picture: www.sxc.hu | Dimitri Castrique

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

4 thoughts on “11 essential copyright questions and answers

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  • June 9, 2010 at 5:37 am

    This is important information. Something anyone who creates any type of imagery should know. However, I have to point out a couple of flaws in the material that need to be clarified. Copyright does begin with the origin of the work and is of course held by the creator. But it is important to note that copyright does not last forever. Contingent upon what the country of origin (USA for example), the length of the copyright protection is limited to the death of the artist plus 75 years assuming that the artist has rightful heirs to whom copyright automatically transfers. Second, in certain circumstances the usage of a copyrighted image is not always considered infringement. Users of images for certain editorial and educational reasons have successfully argued that this was “fair use” and that they were not infringing on the spirit of the copyright. But as a sideline, the whole notion of “fair use” and editorial or educational exemptions is shifting. And finally, it should be noted that it is not absolutely true that the copyright of a created work is automatically held by the artist (for instance in a work for hire scenario) or that the art work is even afforded copyright at all (for example, any creative work commissioned and made specifically for any branch of the US government). Thee works are considered the property and intellectual property of the peoples of the US and copyright does not apply. I only bring these issues up because I have seen many forums where this line of Q&A is presented. And I have found in my dealings with artists and users alike that hearing these same things again and again creates for the readers a sense of copyright law which is both simplistic and fails to demonstrate how not cut and dry this subject is .

  • June 9, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Thank you Nathan, appreciate the information. Just listening to a presentation at the CEPIC conference about copyright. The more information is available on this the better.


  • August 4, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Another important point to touch on is whether the person’s use of an image is on a personal site. In almost all cases, you don’t have to pay. It is important to make sure that all images on your blog or website have been licensed properly and from the copyright holder or imagery provider representing that copyright holder. If the way you want to use the image is not specifically permitted under copyright law or the licensing rights in a standard licensing contract, then you need to make sure you purchase the correct rights you need for your usage, regardless of your site’s purpose. There are a number of royalty free sites, such as Cutcaster or Pixmac that offer inexpensive, web ready images that are perfect for blogs and websites.


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