Do you have the right to use that image?

by admin on December 1, 2011

Photo Taken By: Paul Gallo (no3rdw)

A couple of months ago I caught a story on Today Tonight (please don’t hold that against me!) about a woman who had posted some photos of her baby on the internet to share with family and friends… Jump forward 3 years and imagine her surprise when she sees a flyer using that same photo to advertise a mums & bubs fitness centre! She had no idea how they’d got it nor had she given them permission to use it.

It seems they’d used a Google image search to find photos for the flyer. Nothing wrong with that right? Well, actually there is.

You see, just because you can find images on the Internet, doesn’t mean you have the right to use them.

Like articles, books, paintings, movies, music, designs and poetry (amongst many other things) photos are covered automatically by copyright.

The copyright is generally owned by the person who took the photo, and in some cases a person who appears in the photo. If you want to use a photo – any photo, from any source– you need to have the copyright owner’s permission to use it, otherwise you’re potentially opening yourself up to a complicated legal issue.

Here are some tips to help you ensure you have the right to use the images in your advertising and marketing:

  • Check the licenses of any photographs you purchase. Not all licenses are created equal, so take the time to read through the license before you purchase. Check if you need to give a credit to the photographer, or whether there is a time limit or other restriction on where you can use the image.
  • If you use a professional photographer, check who will own the copyright BEFORE you have the photos taken. Most photographers will negotiate for you to own the copyright over the images they take for you, but you may have to pay a little more… best to find this out at the beginning and have a clear arrangement for ongoing ownership and usage.
  • Get permission from people who appear in your photos, allowing you to use their image in your marketing/advertising. This is called a Model Release. A formal, signed model release is essential to prove that you had permission to use that persons image to promote your business if anything goes wrong down the track. Make sure you get it even if those people are your staff, friends or family – whether you paid them or not!
  • Verify you have the right to use images supplied from other sources. Ask your designer/printer/web developer/signwriter where they got the images from that they’re using in your marketing. If your supplier provides you with images, check that you have the right to promote your business with them.
  • If you must use a photo sharing site (like Flickr or Picasa) search for “CreativeCommons” and “Commercial Use”. Now this is a bit of a minefield for the uninitiated, but you can find free images to use commercially, as long as the photographer has agreed to Creative Commons/Commercial Use for their photo. Bear in mind that these photos are often people’s “happy snaps” so they may not have model releases for the people in their images. Proceed with caution!!!

My final tip: never, ever get tempted by Google Images.

The images that come up in a Google Images search are the full gambit of personal images, images used by other businesses, images from stock photography libraries and images from photo sharing websites.

With images from all over the net, you’ll have a hard time working out what you can and can’t use to promote your business, but it is absolutely your responsibility to ensure you have the legal right to use those images. Don’t leave it to chance and guesswork: free doesn’t always come cheap.


Baby photo used illegally in ad

Over to you

• Do you know of any situations where copyright over images has become an issue?
• What do you do in your business if you need to use photos in your marketing/advertising?

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