You can rip images off the Internet, and 4 other myths about photos and copyright

In the first of this two-part blog about copyright in images, we expose a few myths about using online photos. In part two, we look at how you can add photos to your blog without exposing yourself to a claim for damages

Anyone who doubts the power of a picture hasn’t been watching the news. The image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi laying dead on a Turkish beach shocked many people, me included. Combined with the story of his family’s struggle to escape Syria, it put the true tragedy of the migrant crisis into British homes for the first time.

This is a good example, albeit a sombre one, of how important it is for words and pictures to work together. And it’s as true of web pages, blogs and newsletters as it is of news stories.

But how do you find good images to go with your content? Not every business has a photographer on hand or can afford to commission one. Surely, the answer is to go online and copy some. After all, everyone seems to be at it.

But it’s a myth that you can do this. Below I’ve exposed this and a few other myths about using photos you find online.

1.              Myth: You can copy images from the Internet

This is wrong, very wrong. Images, like other original works such as music, video and software, are protected by copyright. For the most part, copyright is owned by the person who created the work. In the case of a photo, this is usually the photographer. It can though be the photographer’s employer or someone who commissioned the work. Ownership of copyright can be sold (assigned), so it may belong to someone other than the original owner.

The key point to note though is that if you grab a photo off the web, you are taking something that (more than likely) you have no right to take. Effectively, it’s stealing. And you could end up having to pay damages to the owner of the copyright for doing so.


2.              Myth: You need to do ‘something legal’ to create copyright

Not so, copyright happens automatically. If you create an original work, there’s no need to register it or write a circle with a little ‘c’ inside it or do anything else ‘legal’. Copyright belongs to the creator without them having to do anything at all.


3.              Myth: You won’t get caught

If you think the likelihood of getting sued for breach of copyright is fanciful, think again. Photographers and image libraries use Google images and reverse image search engines such as to track their images. They will go after anyone breaching their copyright and in the vast majority of cases there is no defence. Ignorance is no excuse at all.

A client of mine told me they had to pay more than £1,000 for using a photo online without permission. A member of their staff later used the same image again, unaware of the previous problem. The result: a second bill for in excess of £1,000. Ouch!


4.              Myth: You can use images that have been posted on social media

Go to the bottom of the class, just like the BBC did in 2011. You need to get the copyright holder’s permission to use a photo even if has been posted on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media platform. The BBC fell into this trap by using an image from Twitter in a news story about the Tottenham riots without getting the photographer’s permission.

5.              Myth: If you credit the photographer, you don’t need their permission

You’ve probably seen photography credits in newspapers and magazines. Surely if you do this you don’t need their consent? Again, that’s not the case. As a condition for giving consent to use photos, whether you pay them or not, photographers will often ask for a credit. But giving one doesn’t mean you don’t need their consent.

In the second part of this blog, I’ll show you a few ways to add blogs to your content without breaching anyone’s rights.