The internet is awash with images this can include photographs, artwork, illustrations or diagrams. It’s never been easier to copy this material, but how do you know who owns the copyright and whether you’re actually allowed to use the image?

To answer this question, we must first understand what image copyright is. Copyright refers to the legal ownership of an image. An image belongs to its creator, therefore they alone own exclusive rights to use, copy or reproduce it. If you find an image that you want to use yourself, the first question you need to consider is: who created the image? This person usually owns the copyright and it is their permission that you will need.

The creator could be the photographer, artist or the company that the creator worked for. You must be aware that it may not necessarily be the person using the image you have found, as they might have been granted permission by the creator.

When can I use or copy an image online?

The vast majority of images on the internet are likely to be protected by copyright. The only way to be 100% sure that an image is safe to copy and use is to seek permission from the creator before you do so.

Be aware that the familiar copyright symbol © does not have to be present for an image to be protected by copyright. Some images on the internet are controlled by picture libraries which either own the copyright of the images or have the copyright owners’ permission to license the rights to use the images.

If you do wish to use these types of images for commercial use, such as advertising, you will normally have to pay a higher fee than for non-commercial use.

If you think you are the victim of copyright infringement, there are a number of possible courses of action that you can take.

You can ask the user of the image to purchase a licence, you can come to a commercial arrangement with them, or legal action can be taken by bringing a claim in court.

Deliberate infringement of copyright on a commercial scale can lead to criminal prosecution.

How do I protect my images?

There are also steps that you can take to protect your images from copyright infringement:

  • Make sure that your website terms of use prohibit copying.
  • Place a copyright notice on the image or a watermark to render it unusable.
  • Disable right-clicks on the image and add code to make a copyright notice appear if anyone attempts to right-click.
  • Post the image at a reduced resolution to make it less appealing for reuse.

Need to know more about image copyright?

Copyright is a complex area of law. If you need any advice about a copyright dispute, contact or phone 01782 205000 and ask to speak to our dispute resolution team.