Tuesday, 7 July 2015

How to stay out of trouble when using images online

Yes,you can get sued for using copyrighted images on your site.
On websites, a picture really is worth a thousand words. You don’t want your site to look like the yellow pages, just a list of information with a few paragraphs and headings, so you need a few pictures to lighten things up a bit. While some of you are lucky enough to have a ready-made stash of local photos lying around, many people don’t; and their first choice is usually to look on the internet for images. Given that the internet seems to contain 150% of everything that ever existed, it’s a safe bet that you’ll find what you need- but you can’t just save the image and use it on your site.

It is illegal to use any copyrighted images without a licence or the owner’s permission. This rule is enforced- not every time, but more often than you’d think. Sometimes the action is brought by large agencies or companies who have brought the rights to the images; other times a photographer may see their image online and ask for it to be taken down, or may sue for compensation; or they may do both. In a majority of cases, the amount of compensation awarded runs into the thousands of pounds- a lot of money for what could have been a £10 stock photo.
In these occasions, the website owners often claim that

1-      They didn't know the picture was copyrighted
2-      They haven’t made any money from the picture, or
3-      They thought they were covered because they wrote a disclaimer on the site, or mentioned the author’s name beneath the photo.

None of these make any difference. If you’re not sure if an image is copyrighted, it’s safest to assume that it is. You don’t need to be using the image or your site for financial purposes, and no disclaimer or copyright notice has any legal effect.
So what can you do? There are a few options.

1-      Don’t use photos. Leave your site a selection of text pages, charmingly reminiscent of a set of low-tech information posters. Maybe not the best option.

2-      Use only copyright-free images. You can find this on Google by searching entering your search term into Google images, selecting Search Tools, then Usage rights, and selecting ‘Labelled for reuse / with modification’. If you won’t be making any money from them, you can search ‘Labelled for non-commercial reuse’- that will include all the other categories too. See the picture below for more information.

1-      Get snapping! If you've got access to a decent camera (and a sunny day!), why not spend the day taking photos around the town? You can get the exact shots you want, without having to worry about copyright. If you don’t have the time- a common obstacle- see if you can enlist the help of a local photographer, amateur enthusiast, or helpful volunteer.

2-      If you want your website to look the best that it can, you’ll need professional, high quality images. Have a look for skilled photographers in your local community and see how much they charge. If it helps to portray your local area in a positive light, you may make some of the money back in tourism!
So go for it- get searching, snapping or shopping, and liven up your site with a bit of flair that won’t bring you a court warrant.


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