How to Legally Use Images for Your Business Website

Neil JoryMarketing, Website18 Comments

How to Legally Use Images For Your Business Website

It’s a fairly typical scenario. You’ve developed your business idea, refined your marketing message, acquired a great domain name and your website is nearly ready to go. 

All you need now are some great pictures to support your carefully crafted words.  Simple, let’s grab a few pictures from Google images.  As long as there’s no copyright symbol you’ll be fine, and no one will ever know, right?

Wrong!

How do you know if an image is copyrighted on Google?

Just because an image appears in a Google search doesn’t mean that it’s free to use.  The vast majority of images on the internet are likely to be protected by copyright.

Whether it has a copyright symbol or not doesn’t matter either. Digital images often contain hidden metadata that provides evidence of the owner even without a copyright symbol.

Google Images

Always assume that an image is copyrighted unless you know for certain otherwise. If you use a copyrighted image without permission, be aware that you could be sued by the owner.

In the US, photographers own the images they have taken from the moment they press the camera shutter.  UK copyright law states that if you want to use a copyrighted image on your website, you need to have permission from the owner of the license before using it.

Don’t assume that if you got someone to design the website for you that they understand copyright law.

Graham Everitt, from Okehampton based Copyright Correct says, “Many web designers do not have a full understanding of copyright law and still use images that have not been licensed or have been ‘borrowed’ from Google images.”

Photographers, graphic designers and especially the large image repositories will sue in order to protect their intellectual property.  Some of the largest, such as Getty Images have huge resources to actively sift through websites looking for their images. If they find their copyrights being infringed they can and do take legal action. 

Where can you get images for your website?

Creative Commons image sites

If you are looking for free images that you can use for your website then there are a few sites that are worth checking out:

These sites provide a good range of free images that you can use under a Creative Commons license. That means that they allow you to use their images for free but there may be some conditions of use.

Make sure you check what the terms of use are for the image you want as there are different types of Creative Commons licenses. Some require you to provide an attribution back to the creator, others may let you modify the original and some may not. There may also be restrictions for commercial use. As always if you are unsure, then ask before using an image.

The other downside of using free images is that lots of other websites use the same ones. Perhaps if you are going to use them then be sparing and careful about where they are placed on your site. It may not provide a great impression if the main image on your home page is one that your visitor has seen on hundreds of other websites.

Stock photo sites

There are many commercial stock photo sites who manage pictures on behalf of photographers and ensure they get paid if their work is used. 

You’ll almost certainly find suitable photos and you’ll know that, having paid a fee, you can safely use that image for business purposes. Here are a few to look at:

These type of sites usually offer a subscription service depending on the number of photos you want to use in a month. That can be useful if you will need photos to support regular blog posts. You can generally buy one-off images as well for a fee. 

As with the free images be aware of the types of photos that you are using. People can usually spot a bad stock image from a mile off which may hurt your brand.

We’re all familiar with the white-toothed, grinning call centre operator or perfectly airbrushed family photo. If you search a little deeper through the results you can often find some great photos that aren’t so heavily used.

Take your own photos

If you are confident in your own ability, know what you are doing, and have the kit, you can take your own pictures.  This will mean that your pictures are relevant and unique. The composition and content will support your brand and message. 

With advances in technology, you can take some pretty good photos armed just with your smartphone. There are plenty of great photo editing apps that allow you to improve your photos as well.

Taking Photos

If you’re set on taking your own photos but don’t have the necessary skills then perhaps look for a local photography course or spend some time on YouTube learning how to snap that perfect image.

Taking excellent photos is even more important if you are running an e-commerce website. You will need to have high quality images of all your products, often from multiple angles. Product photography is a whole topic by itself but bear in mind that poor images here can really hurt your sales.

If you have a budget, you should consider hiring a professional photographer for an afternoon.  If you discuss what you need and plan your shoot well, you will end up with some stunning pictures that will enhance your website and be well worth the outlay. 

Talk to other local businesses if you need recommendations of photographers who do this type of work well.

What if you already have a website, it’s full of lovely pictures and your web designer merely shrugs when you ask where they came from? 

If that’s the case, for a fee you can use a company such as Copyright Correct to check the images on your website and offer you advice on any images that require a license.

Conclusion

The fact is, in marketing design is very important. It’s not enough to have wonderfully crafted text on your website (though it’s a good start), you also need some great images to go along with them.

Google can be a great resource for so many things but finding images that you can legally use on your website unfortunately is not one of them.

The best images are those that are unique and relevant for your business but if you don’t want to take your own photos or can’t afford a photographer then there are other free and paid for options that you can use.

Before you use any images on your website, always make sure that you have the copyright owner’s permission and don’t assume that if it doesn’t have a copyright symbol that it’s okay to use.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Free Marketing Plan Guide

Fill in your details below to download your free marketing plan guide.

Select "yes" in the box above to subscribe to our email list. We will send you updates on upcoming free workshops, small business related news and articles as well as local funding and support no more than twice a month. We never sell or share your details with third parties and you can unsubscribe at any time. Please check our privacy policy to see how we store and manage your submitted data.

Previous PostNext Post

Share this Post

18 Comments on “How to Legally Use Images for Your Business Website”

  1. Avatar

    Thanks great article. I have a question:

    I know how to use a camera, lighting etc, and I can take quality pictures. The problem is, what if they are of a *brand product*?
    For example, say I make a website for cocktail recipes and I want to have a section listing common brands of liquor, mixers etc. So I go buy a bottle of Absolut Vodka, photograph it myself, and put the picture under a list of “vodka brands” on my website. Does Absolut sue me?

    There seem to be sites everywhere with images of brands for all sorts of purposes. How is everyone doing this?

    1. Avatar

      Hi Will,

      That’s an interesting question and I’ll start off by pointing out that this does not constitute legal advice as I’m certainly no expert in intellectual property law. I’ll assume that you are based in the UK in which case if you are in any doubt then it’s best to contact the Intellectual Property Office.

      Firstly, if you take the photograph of the bottle then you own the copyright to the photo. It probably goes without saying that you couldn’t use a photo that you haven’t got permission for, say from Absolut’s website for example.

      The issue here lies in the fact that you would be displaying a photo of a branded product which could include copyrighted elements as well as a registered trademark. The only way to be 100% sure in this case is to contact the intellectual property owner for permission to display this on your website. There could be a case for fair use of copyrighted material in an editorial context such as writing a review for example.

      Taking a picture of a trademarked logo and putting it on your site would likely be an infringement of that trademark and could see the company pursue you. You may well see lots of sites that take various pictures of brands and use them in different ways. Some may well have obtained permission and some not. Even if they haven’t obtained permission and they do breach a copyright or trademark, it doesn’t mean the company either knows or is concerned about it. Bear in mind it’s up to the owner of the intellectual property to pursue you if they feel a breach has taken place. It’s likely in many cases they don’t feel it’s worth pursuing.

      Realistically if you are saying how good their product is for making a particular cocktail and take a photo to show that, then it’s unlikely they would be too concerned as it’s good publicity for them. That doesn’t mean you haven’t infringed any of their intellectual property rights. The decision is up to you in this case whether to go ahead without permission but legally they may be in their rights to take action against you.

      Sorry I can’t give you a clear yes or no answer but hopefully that gives you some guidance.

      Many thanks
      James

  2. Avatar

    Hi James,

    I had a question. What if you take an image from a site and put it on your own site, but you give the owner credit for the image. I think it’s still technically infringement, but how likely is it that the brand or site will pursue the matter? In this case, I’m talking about selling fashion items on in a webshop. Brands like Gucci, Givenchy etc.

    Thanks,
    Boris

    1. Avatar

      Hi Boris,

      Thanks for the question. As you suggested, if you use a photo from another site on yours without permission you would infringing their copyright and in the case of branded items, potentially trademarks as well. You would need to get permission to use their photos. As to whether they are likely to pursue you, that’s harder to answer – they may do, they may not, but that is a risk.

      A large brand such as Gucci like you mentioned I would imagine are highly likely to protect their intellectual property and you may get into serious issues. If you are selling their products as an approved retailer then most likely they will send you product photos to use. The safest thing to do is ask permission in all cases and find out what their guidelines are.

      Many thanks
      James

  3. Avatar

    Hi James,

    What is the best way to ask for permission? I have used pictures from Selfridges.com. It’s a massive department store in the UK.

    Thanks,
    Boris

    1. Avatar

      Hi Boris,

      It’s difficult for me to help you with specifics, though you need to get permission before you use their photos. If it were me I would try and contact their head office to find out who deals with this. If you aren’t an official seller of their products I would be prepared for a negative answer though there’s no harm in asking.

      Many thanks
      James

    1. Avatar

      Hi Andy,

      I’ll start off by pointing out that this does not constitute legal advice and I’ll assume that you are based in the UK. The simple answer is that there is no problem taking photos of people in public places and displaying them on your website. However, you can’t take photos on private property without permission, cause harassment, invade anyone’s privacy or publish anything indecent. Hope that helps.

      Many thanks
      James

  4. Avatar

    Hi James,

    I have a contract in place with brand influencers that provide me with photographs of my products in use in return for compensation. If a brand influencer uses a photographer to take these photographs for them and passes them on to me to use, I can’t use them on my website without permission from the original photographer (copyright holder).

    How would I go about obtaining permission for using the photographs on my website?

    Thanks,
    Becky

    1. Avatar

      Hi Becky

      I would probably speak to the influencers you are using to make sure that they have the permissions in place for you to use the images on your website. The photographer might not be the copyright holder. They may be under a contract to sell the the copyright to the influencer as part of their services but there’s no way to know without asking the question. If the photographer retains the copyright then you would need to get permission directly from them if there isn’t something already in writing. I would have thought that if you have a contract with the influencer for the photographs that they should have the necessary rights to be able to give them to you but you’ll want to check this.

      Hope that helps.
      James

  5. Avatar

    Hey,

    can I use stock photos, e.g. of Pexels of modles and persons for an ad and promotion for my app? Or do I have to ask the person which is being shown in the picture for permission?

    Thanks,
    Marlon

    1. Avatar

      Hi Marlon

      If you are using stock photography from sites such as pexels you just need to check what their licensing agreement is and what you’re allowed to use the photos for. Most stock photography sites will tell you what you can use the images for, for example whether it’s for private or commercial use. On checking the pexels license it appears you can use their images for commercial activities (but you’ll want to check this). In this case you wouldn’t need any further permission to use them as they will have obtained the necessary permissions to offer them on a commercial basis. They do say, however, that you can’t imply any endorsement of your product or service by the people or brands in their images.

      Usually you will not be allowed to sell the photos and some places will have tighter restrictions on the use of photos. For example you may need to provide an attribute for the photographer or not make any alterations to the original photo. You always just need to check what the restrictions are for the photo you want to use, especially on websites where they are offered for free.

      Hope that helps
      James

  6. Avatar

    Hi,
    Just wondering, we as a charity have a website which is purely for promoting our charity. We have recently changed the name of the charity though in all other aspects it is the exactly the same organisation run by the same people just with a new name. Does copyright we have been granted on photo`s and information on the old website automatically transfer to the new website???

  7. Avatar

    First I would say nice post. But I want to know how to use other websites images for news content in legal way? Many websites who publish tech news they are using images from many different sites. Example Gsmarena, 91 mobiles and many more. Can any one help me out with this. And all those big websites are showing google ads. It means that is legal too. So if there is any one who know about this plase answer?

  8. Avatar

    Lots of useful information I found about Legally Use Images in this blog. Thanks for shearing such a valuable information.

    I also have seen many tech news websites who use others images for there tech news. And I don’t think they could get a permission from so many sites. The also takes from twitter as well as from chines sites. I tried to find a lot about this topic but unfortunately did not find any answer till now. Its a secret and a mystery which I am gone a sole some day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.